Popiah [Spring Roll] 薄饼
Most Singaporeans are well acquainted with this traditional favourite: the popiah 薄饼 or spring roll, which is enjoyed as a complete meal or snack.
In the old days, family members of the Hokkien dialect-speaking community in China would gather during the Ching Ming (equivalent to the All Souls Day) in spring to feast on and offer to the spirits of their ancestors the good harvest of a variety of vegetables.
With the abundance of vegetables, the womenfolk of the family would busy themselves in the kitchen cutting and shredding bamboo shoots, cabbages, leeks, and French beans. This manage of cut vegetables will be thrown into a big wok and slowly cooked with the addition of strips of soya bean curd, pork belly, and shrimp to enhance the taste.
The Hokkien were skillful at making the thin dough skins that hold the ingredients together. Each skin was then stuffed with a liberal helping of cooked vegetables relished with a generous amount of savoury seasoning. Thus the name popiah 薄饼 Spring Roll originated. Till today, the Hokkien still hold pride in the making of these skins or wrappers out of flour, water, and salt.
With the early Chinese immigrants settling in Singapore and inter-marrying the local Malays, many local specialities have evolved, including the Straits Chinese or Nonya version of popiah 薄饼 or spring roll.
The difference is the addition of eggs to make the skins and the pre-cooked turnip stuffing, which is fried in garlic and soya bean paste.
Today in Singapore, the spring roll is a fried snack while the non-fried version is known as popiah popiah 薄饼.
Organising a popiah party is an excellent way to break the ice among guests who do not yet know each other. It is fun to watch everyone attempting to make the perfect popiah with the occasional comical bursting of skins in the process.