Bo bia is one of those street snacks that tends to be overlooked by the average travelling street muncher. Maybe it’s due to its similarity in appearance to goi cuon, the famous Vietnamese fresh spring rolls. However, once you’ve had a few –- and you can have a few at one go – you’ll see why bo bia is a different roll altogether.
Bo bia looks like a mini-version of goi cuon with its distinctive rice paper wrapper, but this is where Vietnam’s influence ends and China take over. Inside, the roll bears a close resemblance to popiah, a Fujian-style fresh spring roll. While goi cuon relies on herbs like mint and chives to give it a bit of heft in the taste department, bo bia uses each filling ingredient to give a distinct taste not usually found in Vietnamese cuisine: the roll is filled with thinly sliced jicama and carrots, egg omelette ribbons, xa xiu or Chinese sausage and dried shrimp. The sliced xa xiu is placed in the last layer of the rice paper wrapper to give the roll its distinctive look. It’s served with a peanut flavoured dipping sauce reminiscent of the sauce served with goi cuon in Nha Trang. Fried shallots and chopped chillies round out the sauce.
Bo bia is a medley of flavours and textures. The jicama and carrot give the roll its crunchy texture, counterbalancing the egg’s softness. The somewhat fatty xa xiu adds a richness to the roll lacking in goi cuon.
Most bo bia vendors can be found wandering the streets of Ho Chi Minh City on bicycles and you’ll probably hear them before you see them. These vendors only serve take-away portions, with everything placed in plastic bags. That is fine for the rolls, but it makes for a frustrating eating experience when trying to dip the bo bia into the sauce in the bag.
If you are looking for a red plastic stool experience, you can find a great bo bia stand at Ho Con Rua or Turtle Lake on Pham Ngoc Thach and Vo Van Tan, where you will get your dipping sauce in a proper cup. Since the rolls are the length of an index finger, most people order them in batches as just one doesn’t fill you up. Expect to pay 5,000 VND per roll.