Thursday 29 October 2009

Fresh Popiah (Spring Rolls)

I present to you, one of my Mum's favourite foods since childhood. :)

The word popiah translates literally to mean "thin biscuit" in the Chinese dialects of Hokkien and Teochew, a reference to the soft thin wheat skins used to wrap up spring rolls. Mum has high standards for what constitutes a good popiah, so much so that she has a tendency to compare every version she eats (especially the thinness/quality of the skin) to the one she thinks is superior in her hometown of Ipoh. If you are lucky enough to live somewhere where you can get fresh handmade wraps then grr, good for you- here in London, not daring to hazard making skins of my own (which involves the rather messy and difficult art of rolling a sticky ball of dough on a hot pan then pulling it off to let the residue cook- watch it at I had to resort to using frozen (shock! horror!) spring roll wraps bought from an Asian supermarket. If like me you are in a similar predicament, defrost them at about 45 mins at room temperature, separate each sheet once soft then keep under a damp tea towel to prevent them drying out.

Most people in the West are familiar with the crunchy fried spring roll often served as a starter in restaurants, but are unaware that an equally (if not more) delicious un-fried, more substantially-filled variety of it exists. Dressed in a touch of sweet Hoisin sauce and chilli oil, the healthy and flavourful popiah is loaded with everything nutritious from grated jicama/yam bean (also known as Mexican turnip, sengkuang, mengkuang or bangkuang depending on who you ask), carrots, beans and lettuce to tofu, beansprouts and cucumber, then topped with shredded omelette, crispy fried shallots and crunchy crushed peanuts before being bundled up to create a tidy little package bursting with yumminess.

Not quite the Ipoh version Mum, but it does the job :)

Fresh Popiah (Spring Rolls)

Makes 4-6 rolls

Prep all filling ingredients beforehand and lay out so your popiah can be assembled easily.

Jicama Filling:
Mince and saute 1 clove garlic and 1 shallot/half an onion in a bit of oil over low heat, without browning.

Stir in and let cook for 5 mins:
500g jicama/yam bean, peeled and grated
1 small carrot, grated
Handful green beans, chopped into bits
2 tbsp light soy sauce
1 tbsp dark soy sauce
Dash of white pepper

Cover and simmer for 15-20 mins until cooked. The jicama will produce a lot of water- be sure to squeeze it dry before using in the popiah.

Prepare the shredded omelette: Scramble 2 eggs with a touch of light soy sauce and white pepper in a bowl, then fry in a bit of oil in a large frying pan for a few minutes on each side. Let cool slightly before slicing into thin strips.

Prepare the peanut sugar: Chuck a handful of roasted peanuts with a teaspoon of sugar in a food processor. Blitz until it forms coarse grains.

Rinse and dry some fresh lettuce leaves.

You will also need some hoisin sauce (I recommend Koon Chun or Lee Kum Kee), Sriracha chilli sauce or chilli oil, and crispy fried shallots/onions, all of which can be bought in Asian supermarkets.

Other fillings you can also use if desired: cooked firm beancurd, blanched beansprouts, grated cucumber or seafood/meat such as pork, cooked shrimp, crab and sliced lap cheong (Chinese pork sausage).

The frozen spring roll sheets I use (found in the freezer section of Asian supermarkets)

To Assemble
Carefully peel off one popiah sheet from the stack and place on a large plate.

Spread 1/2 tsp hoisin sauce and 1/2 tsp Sriracha or chilli oil in a thin layer over the entire sheet.

Place 1 lettuce leaf in the centre of the sheet.

Spoon over 2-3 tbsp of the prepared jicama filling, squeezing off excess liquid before doing so.

Top with shredded omelette.

Sprinkle generously with peanut sugar.

Sprinkle generously with fried shallots.

Fold one end of the wrap over tightly to enclose the fillings.

Fold in the edges.

Flip the wrap over to seal.

Slice firmly all the way through with a sharp knife (easiest on a flat chopping board and using
a non-serrated blade) into 4-5 pieces. Garnish with fried shallots and serve immediately.


  1. Good effort! =) just wondering, how was the texture of the frozen skin? I'm really tempted to buy the frozen spring rolls wrappers to make fresh popiah but haven't been brave enough to try it yet. not sure how it'll turn out.

  2. so did you bake it? why does it look so crispy on the outside in the last picture?

  3. Haha no it's not baked, the skin just tore at the edges when I cut it so it looks like it crisped up :)

    Frozen skins are fine as long as you defrost them thoroughly then store under a damp cloth so they get a bit moist and soften up, otherwise they're pretty hard/tough. Some people steam them beforehand, but I don't think you need to go that far.

    Obviously not as good as fresh skins, but beggars can't be choosers!

  4. Delicious! It really looks as if it's ready-to-eat fresh, from the photos! keep up the fantastic job!:)

  5. Sam! You inspired me to cook this weekend! Excellent pictures of popiah and curry puffs! I hope they taste as good as they look!

    1. Glad to be of help :) Let me know how the recipes turn out! x