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Popiah (also spelt Poh Piah), Teochew for "thin pancake", is a thin paper-like crepe or pancake wrapper stuffed with a filling made of cooked vegetables and meats. When deep fried, the crispy roll is known as a spring roll, but if left raw it is known as popiah.
The popiah is of southeastern Chinese origins, originating in the Fujian province. It is derived from the spring roll which was eaten during spring when there was an abundance of vegetables. The Chinese diaspora has spawned variants of the roll throughout Asia, intermingling ingredients from the local culture resulting in such likes as the Nonya version of the popiah.
The fresh white wrapper or skin of the popiah is usually made of wheat flour mixed with water and a dash of salt for taste. Homemade egg roll wrappers which have egg added to the traditional dough is considered a richer, tastier skin. The slightly elastic dough is separated into small balls, dropped onto a hot skillet, then quickly lifted off leaving a thin layer on the pan. Left to cook for a short while, the skin is then lifted off skilfully without breaking. There are few local makers of popiah skins left in Singapore.
For the popiah, the various ingredients are usually placed in small saucers for diners to mix and add according to their taste preferences. The filling can have as many as ten items but are broadly divided into the main meat and vegetable filling, garnishing and spices and sauces. The main filling is made of fine strips of bamboo shoot cooked with shrimps, sautéed garlic, pork cooked in the broth of shrimp and pork. To prepare the popiah, first spread a thin layer of sweet sauce and chilli paste onto the open skin. Sprinkle bits of fried garlic to add zest. A leaf of salad placed on the skin serves as a base to hold the filling. The meat and vegetable mixture should be squeezed dry from juices using the given ladles before adding a manageable scoop onto the skin. Top the mixture with garnishing like beansprouts, omelette, cucumber, shrimp, coriander and Chinese sausages, all thinly sliced. The popiah is then folded neatly into a package and sliced into bite-sized pieces. Pop a mouthful of each piece using your fingers.
Popiah in Singapore
Popiah is eaten as a snack or as an accompaniment to the main meal. It is sold in most hawker-centers and a "do-it-your-self" popiah party is quite popular. Here the wrappers are set aside and the guests just add in the ingredients of vegetables and meat. It is much better if the wrapper is freshly made rather than frozen although frozen popiah skins which come in packets of 20's and 40's and are sold at the various supermarkets has become big business.
Homegrown Tee Hih Jia is the largest popiah skin maker in the world headed by Goi Seng Hui. Goi, known as the "Popiah King", is also one of the world's largest producers of spring rolls. The world's longest popiah was made in Singapore. Stretched across 53 m, a team of chefs co-ordinated the making of this popiah which had 320 wrappers, 1.5 kg (3 lbs) of chilli paste and 2.5 kg (5 ½ lbs) of crushed garlic. A 99 strong team of volunteers came forward to roll it.
Singapore, Malaysia: popiah.
Philippines/Indonesia: lumpia, this version is fried.
Cantonese: chun quin meaning "spring roll".
Hokkien: lun pia meaning "elastic pancake".
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The information in this article is valid as at 2002 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.