The rice paper frenzy

By Linh San - Doc Lap, Thanh Nien News

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Khanh jostles through circles of other customers, sweating all over his face, to go back to his motorbike for a sit after waiting by the cart for a while to no avail.
He picked number 45, and it’s only 36 after he waited for more than 15 minutes.
He drove from a different district to buy his girlfriend her favorite snack.
“So hot! I’m out of breath. I agreed to go as she said I’d only have to wait ten minutes, I didn’t know it’d take so long, as some customers before me bought as many as ten bags.”
It’s 5 p.m. and vehicles have started to throw themselves into the streets after office hours, just when this rice paper snack shop on Nguyen Thuong Hien Street runs into its full business every day.
The short and narrow street in Ho Chi Minh City’s downtown, which has always been known as a snail shop street, has recently caught up with the new snack fad of rice paper stripes plus almost everything from dry beef and squid to boiled quail eggs, mango stripes, aromatic leaves, fried peanuts, lime juice, and some special sauces, all wrapped up in a plastic bag.
Despite the supply, most customers are pulled into one shop run by Uncle Vien (Chu Vien), his wife and his daughter.
Dozens of motorbikes pulled up on the roadway around his cart in an evening in early April, waiting for their takeaways, not to mention curious passers-by who would slow down to have a look and jam the traffic further.
Police officials or local security forces often have to intervene in the crowds and even have to threaten to seize customers’ motorbikes parked on the roadway.
There were so many customers they have to take a number and wait, like when one goes to a crowded hospital for a check-up.
Vien issues 50 numbers a day, and he doesn’t limit the number of bags each can buy. Some people couldn’t bear the wait and would give up their number to others who come later.
He, his wife and daughter cannot cease their hands from picking, spraying, squeezing, although they have readied bags of rice paper, dry beef and mango and only have to add other ingredients when there’re orders.
The shop uses hand mixers but each can only mix one bag at a time so they don’t help much to speed up the work.
Each bag costs VND15,000 or VND20,000, less than one US dollar.
Standing next to Khanh was Vi from Tan Binh District, who said she’s impatient with the wait.
Vi went with her sister who plunged into the customer crowd more than 30 minutes earlier. She said she would give her sister a bow for the patience, that she could never do that no matter how much she loves the snack.
But many customers said they prefer Vien’s service as it’s not only tasty but clean, which is quite good for such low prices.
Vien said his family has to wske up at 5 a.m. to prepare the ingredients. They open from 3 in the afternoon and until around 10 or 11 at night. They close on Sunday.
He said dry squid is bought from the coastal resort town Nha Trang, salt and shrimp powder mix from famous producers in Tay Ninh, a province neighboring the city, while other ingredients including the sauce are made or prepared at home, “to guarantee quality.”

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