The name bò bía is likely a Vietnamese adaptation of the Chinese name and roll “popiah” which is pronounced similarly to bò bía. These two foods are quite different though. When bò bía was adapted by the Vietnamese the ingredients changed likely to match local taste and ingredient availability. The first noticeable change is the rice paper wrapper (bánh tráng) instead of a wheat based one. Other changes include the sauce and removal of ingredients like yams, green beans, bean sprouts and more. Popiah is also different in that it has fried variations.
Bò bía, or a type of fresh spring rolls, have a good amount of vegetables in them. Despite the Chinese sausage, these rolls are fairly light, making them suitable for snacking throughout the day. They aren’t typically served as full meals, but if you have 3 of them like I just did, you can forget about eating anything else.
My mom clearly recalls that in Vietnam, these rolls never contained carrots for the same reason dồ chua contained little to none. Even though bò bía is perfect for taking on the go, she says most of them were eaten at the stand where they’re made. When not at home, how often do you get to eat next to the cook?
Since these were meant to be simple street food snacks, having any extra containers for sauce was an extra step business owners wanted to avoid. Any on-the-side extras we’re used to seeing Stateside were usually put directly into the roll. When business was slow, these rolls would slightly dry out, so the cart owners would dip them in the hot water used to steam the veggies. This is a good way to revive some cold rolls at home too!
We start with the dried shrimp since it takes the longest. The typical way to use this is to soak it in water. This takes around 2 hours if you use hot or warm water, or you can soak overnight to prep for this recipe. We soak it so they’re not super hard to chew.
Next we start peeling and julienning jicama and carrots. I didn’t want carrots to take over in these rolls so I about four times as much jicama as carrots. Add salt and water, bring to a boil and then reduce to a low boil for about 15 minutes. We want them to be softened but still retain a slight crunch. Steaming would be a better way to cook these since you can control it better, but I don’t have a steamer.
Meanwhile, whisk together the eggs and season with a little salt. Heat a pan and pour a thin layer of the eggs on to cover. We want it thin enough so there is no need to flip the egg. This means you might need to do 2 or more batches. Then roll it up and cut into ribbons.
For the Chinese sausage (lạp xưởng), slice at an angle so the pieces are longer and look nicer in the roll. You can also cut it lengthwise but I don’t like the fact that each piece isn’t going to be uniform. Saute on medium heat and flip until lightly browned on both sides. These sausages have a lot of fat that will render, so if you cook it too much they will shrivel. To keep the shape of the sausage you can also bake or boil it (which my mom prefers).
Wash and dry the mint (rau quế) and red leaf lettuce.
To roll, start with mint, a small piece of lettuce to cover the length. Add jicama and carrot, egg, shrimp, and sausages. I was determined to make a plumper roll so I loaded up on the filling. With this smaller sized rice paper (22 cm), it was harder to roll, but I made it work. If you want to one up my method, make your rolls about an inch shorter or use larger rice paper.
The dipping sauce I used (recipe below) is more concentrated and uses crushed peanuts on top instead of peanut butter mixed in. I also used Sambal Oelek chili paste on top (yummaayy). You can add peanut butter if you like it creamier. Just adjust the consistency with the water to your liking.
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