Why It Works
- Using an egg wash to seal your lumpia prevents them from unraveling as they fry.
- Filling the lumpia with ground pork that has a higher percentage of fat guarantees moist lumpia.
Lumpia are Filipino egg roll-style snacks that can be prepared with any number of different kinds of fillings, both savory and sweet. Introduced by Chinese traders some time during the precolonial period (between 900-1565 AD), the name is derived from Hokkien, a language that originated in southeastern China: “lun” means wet, moist, or soft, and “pia” means cake or pastry. Since the word refers to a general category of food—pastry wrapped around fillings of some kind and fried—lumpia are often referred to as “lumpiang” along with some descriptor that indicates what’s been stuffed inside. Lumpiang sariwa, for example, is brimming with vegetables; lumpiang togue is stuffed with beansprouts; and lumpiang pancit is filled with noodles. However, that’s not always the case; turon, for example, is a sweet lumpia that’s stuffed with saba bananas and jackfruit.
The recipe below is for lumpiang Shanghai, one of the most popular types, which is stuffed with a highly seasoned pork and vegetable filling. (The name is a bit of a misnomer, since this dish didn’t come from Shanghai; rather, the name is simply indicative of its Southern Chinese origins.) Its popularity is pretty easy to explain, since it has a crispy, fried exterior, a juicy, meaty filling, and it works well with a variety of dipping sauces. Combined with its small size—you can easily hold a few in your hand—it’s the quintessential party appetizer. The one problem with lumpia Shanghai is they’re easy to fill up on. I’ve warned many folks about eating too many and being unable to enjoy all the other food that’s available.
Making lumpiang Shanghai is an act of love, which is another way of saying it’s fairly labor intensive and repetitive, an activity best split up between multiple people. My family would set up an assembly line: one person was designated the peeler, another the stuffer, and a third, the wrapper. The peeler’s job was to delicately detach each individual lumpia wrapper from a tall pile. The stuffer portioned the filling into each lumpia; a crucial job in which they carefully straddled the line between over- and under-stuffing. The wrapper, who typically had the most skill and experience since badly wrapped lumpia fall apart when fried, expertly wrapped each lumpia with the dexterity of an origami artist. I had the unfortunate job of being the peeler (a task commonly regulated to kids), which tested my patience and dexterity as a five year old. When the pile of torn lumpia wrappers was bigger than the pile of usable ones, I’d get kicked out of the kitchen.
In this recipe, I’ve taken some of the guesswork out of the wrapping process by providing an exact amount of filling for each lumpia. And while there’s no substitute for practice and experience, the directions for wrapping the lumpia should help you get started; you’ll find yourself wrapping perfect lumpia that fry up juicy and crisp in no time.
Oftentimes, lumpiang shanghai are accompanied by a selection of condiments for dipping, which can include banana ketchup and spiced coconut vinegar. I think that lumpiang Shanghai are best served with agre dulce sauce—a mix of brown sugar, vinegar, banana ketchup, and chiles—as I find that the sweetness and sourness complement the crispy fried shell and the meaty filling.
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