As one of the world’s frontrunners in both rice production and exporting, most of the cultivation occurs in the agriculturally-rich Mekong Delta, also known as the ‘Rice Bowl’ of Vietnam. In fact, an astounding 80% of the region’s 17 million inhabitants are involved with either rice farming or a related industry. With such an abundance of this dietary staple, rice is often consumed three meals out of the day – traditionally or in rice-based foods such as noodles, paper, pancakes, dumplings or wine.
One of the Delta’s specialities is a crispy puffed rice snack which comes in a variety of flavours. And any traveller passing through the area should certainly not pass up the chance to witness its fascinating manufacturing process.
How Crispy Puffed Rice is Made
This decades-old technique of cooking pop-rice begins with pouring whole grains of rice (including husk) into a large, wok-shaped pot filled along with black Mekong River sand over fire. As the worker stirs the mixture, the rice then launches into an explosive spectacle for the eyes and ears.
The popped rice is then filtered through a mesh screen twice, first to sift out the black sand and once again to remove the remaining rice husks (which are then used as fuel for the fire).
Next, the resulting crispy kernels are moved into another wok and combined with a sweet binding agent. By default, this pre-made syrup consists of just water and sugar, though other ingredients such as caramel, coconut milk, green tea, ginger or peanuts can also be added to for an assortment of flavours. With large, wooden spatulas, the rice and liquid sugar is then quickly blended by two craftsmen.
While still hot and before it hardens, the resulting mixture is flattened with a metal rolling pin into a rectangular frame. Lastly, it is cut into individual squares before the final product is packaged for selling.
Visit a rice speciality workshop during a Mekong River cruise
There are a handful of candy and rice factories throughout the Mekong Delta who are always happy to accept guests. While the products they manufacture varies from location to location, visitors at the Thanh Tri workshop in the town of Cai Be can observe the production of rice paper (pictured below left), coconut candy, rice wine and, of course, our beloved pop rice treats.
Passengers aboard Heritage Line’s lower Mekong River cruises embark on a discovery of charming Cai Be and its network of canals via local sampan boat. After exploring a floating market, we continue past the town’s landmark church which overlooks the river, then come ashore to visit this fascinating workshop!