Sweet popiah – beloved childhood snack

Of all the snacks that have been enjoyed by Vietnamese students throughout the years, the sweet and creamy bò bía ngọt (sweet popiah) is one of the most popular.

Sweet popiah – beloved childhood snack
Sweet popiah is made by wrapping sugar candy, grated coconut and black sesame seeds with rice and wheat flour paper.

The treat is based on the Chinese fresh spring roll dish called popiah, which explains the Vietnamese pronunciation of bò bía.

Similar to Vietnamese fresh spring rolls, sweet popiah also involves using rice paper to wrap ingredients. Thin paper-likke crepe made of rice and wheat flour is mainly used, while the fillings include sugar candy, grated coconut and black sesame.

The candy is the dish’s defining ingredient, made by boiling white sugar with water, then using stretching and folding methods to mold it into small, hollow and brittle cylinders.

Nguyen Thi Mai, who sells sweet popiah in a small shop in District 10, said that rolling the ingredients with flour paper must be done gently and slowly; otherwise, the brittle candy can break into tiny pieces.

Despite its cheap price and seemingly simple recipe, this dish can be very ‘addicting’. Its soft yet firm outer layer highlights its crunchy insides, and you can feel its sweetness slowly seep through the filling as you bite and chew the tasty treat.

“Thanks to the hollow cylinder shaped candies, sweet popiah is very crunchy inside but melts quickly in your mouth. The smell of fresh rice paper and the creaminess of coconut also make it better,” she told Việt Nam News.

Nguyen Thi Thuy Trang, who frequently buys sweet popiah at Mai’s shop, said the ingredients offer different flavours, so the dish never feels bland. She also enjoys how compact and convenient the snack is.

The sugar candy can melt easily under hot weather, so it has to be refrigerated. Shops like Mai’s can even ship individual ingredients separately for customers to make sweet popiah, which allows the candy to retain its shape longer.

Sweet popiah – beloved childhood snack
For decades, the snack has been enjoyed by students and adults who ate the sweet when they were young. – VNS Photos Viet Dung

Popular with young and old

The sweet popiah’s flavour, combined with its cheap price and convenience, makes it a beloved snack of Vietnamese students and adults who used to eat it when they were young.

Le Nhi Loan, who has been selling sweet popiah online for four years, said that she grew up eating the snack and wanted to sell it so that more young people could enjoy it.

“When we were young, we would buy sweet popiah from a vendor after school and eat them together. The snack was tasty and affordable. So many students loved having it as something to eat together and chat and relieve stress after school.”

Shops like Loan’s and Mai’s also ship sweet popiah ingredients overseas to Vietnamese living abroad who want to relive their childhood memories. They eat the snack with other Vietnamese or introduce it to their non-Vietnamese friends.

Nowadays, vendors selling sweet popiah are still easily found around crowded places and schools, selling the treat to students and locals who are never too old for some sweet, creamy goodness of their childhood.