An Nguyen’s Rice Paper Restaurant

An Nguyen’s Rice Paper transports us to a Vietnamese childhood.
An Nguyen, owner of Edina's Rice Paper restaurant.

When An Nguyen, owner of Edina’s Rice Paper restaurant, recalls her childhood in Hue, Vietnam, a rush of emotion accompanies her bittersweet memories. Growing up in a war-torn country left an indelible impression on Nguyen, and the experiences continue to influence her life in surprising ways.

During the Vietnam War, Nguyen’s father and several brothers went off to fight, leaving her mother as the sole provider for a family of 14 children: seven girls and seven boys. Although she didn’t have much time for cooking, Nguyen’s mom had unusually refined taste buds, which Nguyen also acquired.

But life was a roller coaster—some comfortable years, and others that left the family in need. Through it all, strong ties and traditions held the kin together.

Rice Paper features a tamarind rice trio: Each neat pile of rice is topped with a different sauce; scallion oil, peanut and coconut.

Sundays were special family days. During morning Mass at their Catholic church, Nguyen looked forward to the French-inspired breakfast that followed the service. Because home was small and the family large, siblings stood around the table, dipping chunks of French bread into a tasty beef sauce with tomatoes. Nguyen fondly reminisces about fighting over the crispy heels, which were everyone’s favorite part.

Other times, her mom would summon a street vendor to bring their food cart to the house. The merchant would sell the entire day’s food supply, and Nguyen’s extended family would satisfy their hunger with a wholesome meal called pho bo, an aromatic Vietnamese rice noodle soup made with small pieces of beef and topped with Asian basil, mint leaves, lime, and bean sprouts.

Having studied English while attending a French-speaking school, Nguyen eventually chose to leave Vietnam and attend the University of Minnesota. In 1980, she opened Matin, the first Vietnamese restaurant in downtown Minneapolis. For her, it was a labor of food nostalgia.

In 1983, Nguyen’s passion for creativity led her to open Avalanche, a unique women’s clothing store in Uptown, which she ran for 12 years.  But she eventually decided that the process of selecting fashion for the upcoming season meant not living in the present.

Over the next five years, Nguyen returned to her homeland to reconnect with her roots. During extended visits, she gained a deeper understanding of her culture and grew to understand why her childhood had been filled with sorrow.

Upon her return to Minneapolis, Nguyen opened Rice Paper restaurant in Linden Hills, which she describes as a “shower for a dry soul.” Using her knowledge of feng shui, and with her artist husband’s help, she developed an interior design for the restaurant space that reflected “what peace means to me.”

An Nguyen wearing a traditional vietnamese outfit called an ao dai.

During her youth, peaceful Vietnamese villages were always surrounded by thick hedges of bamboo with strong stalks that stand up straight. Their hollow interiors represent a void, not holding anything. This humble plant that is revered in Vietnam became the restaurant’s motif, covering the walls to create a serene ambiance. During those days of innocence, countryside homes also had no lights, so family and friends would go outside to share thoughts under the glow of a full moon.  Large round lights were selected for the restaurant space to remind Nguyen of those happy times.  But most important, every dish on Rice Paper’s menu expresses a moment in her life that brought her happiness amid turbulence and sadness.

Rice Paper, now located at 50th and France in Edina, continues to serve a highly personal menu, with each dish recalling a story from Nguyen’s childhood in Vietnam.

The Noodle Corner, a section of the Rice Paper menu, evolved from memories of her entire family going out for noodles because they were both tasty and inexpensive.  With no car, everyone piled into bicycle rickshaws called cyclos to reach the family’s favorite noodle shop.  The speedy (and sometimes scary) ride, made Nguyen want to fly, and that’s how one dish came to be named Flying Rickshaw noodles. Because the noodles were so delicious, the children wanted to eat them quickly, and now she serves Twirling Chopsticks noodles to recall that warm memory. Chatty Bowl noodles was named after the lively chatter among her excited siblings.

An Nguyen (on the chair, far right) with the other girls in her family.

Tears come to her eyes as she recalls hours in the kitchen with her adopted aunt during the monsoon season. The pounding sound of the rain on the tin roof was music to her ears, and the experience engaged all her senses. She became very fond of her aunt’s culinary creation, which she remembers as “the most perfect sweet-and-sour sauce.” This memory is presented to Rice Paper guests in the Delta bowl, a meal-sized rice noodle soup in a light lemongrass-garlic-shrimp broth.

The tamarind rice trio was inspired by school recess, when Nguyen and her friends would play beneath a tamarind tree. Street vendors sold them sticky rice with a choice of delicious toppings—fresh-roasted crushed peanuts and flaked coconut with sesame seeds. Most of the time, she carried only one cent, which meant making a tough decision. But at Rice Paper, the entrée contains three mounds of rice, each with a favorite distinctly Vietnamese topping that Nguyen is eager to share with her lucky customers.

Song Huong beef, abundant with Vietnamese lemongrass, evokes memories of the Perfume River that flowed through Hue and how her mother influenced Nguyen’s cooking and life.

Being a restaurateur is a demanding job, but for Nguyen the business is cathartic with a great satisfaction that comes from interacting with her staff and customers.  She describes her present experience as “feeling very alive,” offering that “I’m convinced that the foods we find most delicious are the ones that trigger memories.”

To Nguyen, each Vietnamese dish on her menu is art. She used to ask her husband how he knew when to stop painting and consider his artistic creation complete. She herself now savors the fulfillment of developing a recipe, perhaps adding just one more drop of Vietnamese fish sauce and knowing that the taste has achieved perfection.

Rice Paper has led to a joyful time in her life, moving forward with great optimism and satisfaction. The carrot “flowers” that garnish each Rice Paper dish represent a smile.

Rice Paper's Twirling Chopsticks Noodles

Visit Rice Paper to enjoy An Nguyen’s Twirling Chopsticks—or any other menu offering, which are all created using fresh produce and authentic imported ingredients. Or purchase a jar of her delicious Vietnamese peanut sauce ($8.95) and prepare the dish for your family at home.

Visit food writer Paulette Mitchell’s website at


Twirling Chopsticks Noodles

Serves 4 to 6

If you’d like, substitute 1 chicken breast cut into thin strips instead of shrimp; cook for 4 minutes or until cooked through.



4 bundles (16 oz.) fresh Cantonese thin wheat-flour noodles (made with egg white)

2 Tbsp. vegetable oil, divided

8 whole stalks baby bok choy, stem ends trimmed

3/4 cup finely chopped shallots

1 lb. (21 to 25 count) shrimp, peeled and deveined 

Dash of salt

3/4 cup Rice Paper peanut sauce

Coarsely chopped fresh cilantro, finely crushed unsalted peanuts, and toasted sesame seeds for garnish



• Cook the noodles in a large pot of boiling water for 20-30 seconds or according to package instructions.  (Take care not to overcook.) Drain well and set aside.

• Heat 1 Tbsp. of the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add the shallots.  Cook, stirring constantly for about 1 minute or until tender.

• Add the shrimp.  Continue stirring for about 3 minutes or until pink. Transfer to a medium bowl and cover to keep warm.

• Heat the remaining 1 Tbsp. oil in the skillet. Add the bok choy. Cook, turning occasionally, for about 1 minute or until the leaves are wilted and the stalks are crisp-tender. Lightly sprinkle with salt.

• In a large bowl, toss the noodles with the shrimp mixture and bok choy. Add the peanut sauce and toss again until evenly combined.

• Can be served immediately while warm, refrigerated in a covered container and chilled or at room temperature. Garnish the servings with cilantro, peanuts and sesame seeds.



You'll find fresh Cantonese wheat-flour noodles in the refrigerated section of Asian markets such as:

Hai Nguyen Market; 2412 Nicollet Ave. Minneapolis 55404; 612-870-0782

United Noodles Oriental Food; 2015 E. 24th St. Minneapolis 55404; 612-721-6677