Most people think of gỏi cuốn (fresh Spring Rolls with shrimp and lettuce) when they think of Vietnamese cuisine. Yes, this is a good indicator of the eating culture here; light, healthy and filled with fresh vegetables and seafood - but I'm actually not a big fan of Spring Rolls. I feel there's another roll in the neighborhood that brings more of a punch to the table. His ancestors may have called China home, but today he's got his green card and makes a steady income in the socialist republic of Việt Nam.
Hi. I'm bò bía. Have you meet my sweetheart?
This snack originally derived from the Fujian province of China. There it's called Popiah and the wrapping is a thin wheat-flour 'crepe', while upon entering Việt Nam several years ago it underwent some changes at customs. The wheat flour wrap was substituted with - go figure - rice paper, and the name turned into bò bía, so it sounds all Vietnamese like. Many of the fillings changed as well.
So what's wrapped up in there? Like R-Kelly at a quinceanera, I know you're just dying to get inside. For starters, steamed strips of jicama (củ sắn), thin slices of dried Chinese sausage (lạp xưởng) - [essentially a dried form of the grilled sausages (香腸) I ate in Taiwan], baby dried shrimp (tôm khô), crushed peanuts (đậu phộng), lettuce (xa lát) and basil (rau quế). A dipping sauce of fermented soybeans called Tương accompanies the bò bía. Don't forget the fried shallots and chili pepper. There's just so much packed into this snack you can't really pin down a specific flavor, but I honestly appreciate the fishy/saltiness the dried shrimp bring. The jicama should still have a slight crunch to it, not too mushy. Send them back to the kitchen if that's the case.
How can you resist the lady's charm? bò bía can be found in the Chợ Lớn district of Hồ Chí Minh and randomly throughout the other districts.
When you don't want a meal, when you're noodled or riced out - reach for bò bía, then reach for the heavens. 1.500 - 2.500 VND a roll (8 - 14 cents).