Popiah afternoon tea

First, for those asking: popiah is a kind of fresh, soft spring roll popular in a number of South East Asian countries including Malaysia, where I was born. It is said to have originated in China. The popiah ‘skin’ is filled with finely grated stir-fried bangkuang (some of you know it as the root vegetable jicama). In Malaysia, we’d use fresh bangkuang; these days my mum uses a Vietnamese product from the freezer in the Asian grocery called “Frozen stripped yam bean”), which she stir-fries with carrot and green beans.

Popiah fillingsMy mum made the fried bangkuang mix, and Jac cooked the Chinese omelette.

In addition to the fried bangkuang mix, we like to have pork, small prawns, lup cheong (Chinese sausage), fried tofu, very thin strips of Chinese omelette, fresh cucumber and lettuce, and fried shallots. We also have hoisin sauce and chilli sauce – my Mum provides a ‘regular’ chilli sauce and an extra hot mixture of pounded chillies for the chilli champions in the family. Whenever we have popiah for a meal, we like to do it MYO (make-your-own) style. All popiah components are laid out on the table. You help yourself to a popiah skin, add sauces and fillings, roll it up, eat, then repeat.

Popiah fillings and sauces Popiah fillings and sauces. My eldest sister CW fried and sliced up the Chinese sausage.

We had the popiah for afternoon tea – in addition to my immediate family, we had aunties, uncle and cousins along for the feast. We had two tables going, each with a supply of popiah skins, sauces and fillings, to feed 22 people including the three kids. When my late grandma was well and still cooking, she and my mum would make the popiah skins from scratch, which adds more time and labour to the preparation. Now, we simply use ready-made spring roll skins bought from the Asian grocery.

EDIT: From my mum, details of the popiah skins used: ‘Spring Roll Pastry for all purpose’, made by Mandarin Food Manufacturing Pty Ltd. It is a packet of 50 square sheets, 500 g (1 lb 2 oz), 190mm (7.5 inches). She bought it from MCQ Supermarket at Coventry Markets for AU$3.29.


My Auntie M makes her popiahMy Auntie M makes her popiah


After my mum gave a demonstration, my nieces got right into it, selecting their fillings and making their own popiah. It’s especially appealing to kids because it’s so tactile. My mum’s recommended technique is to spread sauce on the skin first, place the lettuce leaf on top, and then add the fillings – the fillings are less likely to break through the skin if the lettuce is in the way – you could say that the lettuce adds structural integrity to the popiah. The girls followed my mum’s instructions and looked ever so slightly disapproving when I forgot the lettuce layer for my own popiah more than once.

Zoe makes her first popiah Zoe makes her first popiah

Caleb preferred a deconstructed popiah, painstakingly assembled then vigorously pulled apart and savoured bit by bit.

Popiah, deconstructed Popiah, deconstructed – don’t interrupt the demolition.


For the greedy (including me), it’s tempting and all too easy to create gargantuan popiah that burst open and spill their contents. It’s a source of great amusement and part of the fun of a popiah party. Popiah parties are a common way to enjoy popiah with friends and family – I’m sure you can see why.

DSC_1606The kids enjoyed watching their dad making popiah.



Father-daughter popiah comparisonRuby and her dad compare their popiah.

DSC_1586My uncle and auntie were quick to roll and eat – I couldn’t keep up with them.

To supplement the popiah (because one of our not-so secret fears is a family meal with not enough food), my mum cooked up a batch of her famous Hokkien mee (see recipe).

Mum's hokkien mee Mum’s hokkien mee

If Caleb thought popiah was fun, he enjoyed balancing the springy ‘worms’ on his fork even more – each strand was a source of intense delight, with much giggling.

The joy of noodles The joy of noodles

Sluuuuuuurp! Sluuuuuuurp!

DSC_1697The adults enjoyed the noodles in a much more dignified manner.

For sweets, a selection of homemade treats. First, vanilla custard tarts with orange syrup glaze made by Angela, Mark and their girls.

Custard tarts with orange glaze Custard tarts with orange glaze

Juji made panna cotta lamingtons, following the recipe by Sydney bakery Flour and Stone as blogged at Food Endeavours of the Blue Apocalypse. They’re called “panna cotta lamingtons” because the sponge cake is soaked overnight in a panna cotta mixture before being covered with chocolate and shredded coconut. Juji ran out of finely desiccated coconut and used some coarser shredded coconut for the last of the lamingtons – I called them panko-lamingtons. The panna cotta soaking of the sponge creates moist, almost creamy lamingtons that taste pretty wonderful. Readers unfamiliar with the lamington, it’s an Australian cake classic (Flour and Stone’s version adds a modern twist) – I wrote a post about lamingtons a couple of years ago.

Panna cotta lamingtons Panna cotta lamingtons

My sister CW brought mooncakes – red bean with salted egg yolk and my favourite, durian with salted egg yolk.

Red bean moon cake (with salted egg yolk) Red bean moon cake (with salted egg yolk)

I may have eaten more than my fair share of the durian mooncake. It’s a once-a-year treat that I relish.

Durian moon cake (with salted egg yolk) Durian moon cake (with salted egg yolk)

We also enjoyed my cousin C’s crumbly, fruity slice with cranberries, apricot and banana. She confessed it was the first time she’d baked it. We were pretty happy to be her guinea pigs and even took home the leftovers.

Cousin C's cranberry, apricot and banana slice, vanilla custard tart with orange glaze, panna cotta lamingtonClockwise from top left: Cousin C’s fruit crumble slice, vanilla custard tart with orange syrup glaze, panna cotta lamington

Do you enjoy MYO-style meals with your family?

Sticky faces and fingers - more signs of happiness.Sticky faces and fingers – more signs of happiness.

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  • jetgirlart


  • Gourmanda

    Oh, how gorgeous! I think this kind of DIY eating is so great for little kids, it really gets them involved in the process of creating food which can only be beneficial. I remember my mum used to let me help make dumplings when I was a little kid.

    • Gourmanda, we used to help our grandma make peanut cookies and pineapple jam tarts for Chinese New Year, which was good fun. My nieces and nephew cook a lot at home – whenever we eat brownies or custard tarts or sausage rolls at family get-togethers we know the kids have helped make them. :)

  • flower

    I didn’t know that we can make popiah basah with normal store bought popiah skin. It has been awhile since I’ve eaten one. Like this, I want to make it soon. So lapar….

    • Flower, hope you get to eat some soon.

      • flower

        I will when I ‘rajin’ enough to make.

  • bronie

    yum oodles of noodles

  • Alessandra Litta Modignani

    We have special MYO meals in winter time, here in Switzerland. It’s called raclette. It’s a sort of melt-your-own cheese, with potatoes, gerkins, and sausages on the side. A cheese-fest, very much typical of Swiss people :)

    • Alessandra, I’ve had raclette before, quite a few years ago. Was fun and yummy. I ate A LOT of potato.

  • I love everything about this post. MYO 4 EVA!

  • Prez

    Would love to know what brand of wrapper your mum buys!

  • What a great feast!

  • Row

    Love this post! The popiah look similar to the fresh lumpia we eat at family gatherings. I’m excited about moon cake time… it’s such a yummy treat! The photos of the kids slurping up noodles are so cute… sometimes I slurp up my noodles at home. :D

    • Row, I slurp too but very restrained as I’m usually trying not to splash my computer or iPad screen at the same time :D

  • Dea

    I love DIY popiah parties! My family usually has one during CNY season, either hosted by my mum or one of my paternal aunts. We like ours with some mashed hard boiled egg, and fried tofu bits too. I can eat a great deal of popiah and usually enjoy every bite as it is such a time consuming thing to prepare. My office had a bit of a mooncake party and I am all mooncaked out. Thank heavens I do not resemble a mooncake!

    • Oh yes, we can get through a decent amount of popiah in one sitting. Even the kids ate lots. :) This year as far as mooncakes go, I’ve had red bean, durian (x2!) and a special homemade one from a friend, with Chinese sausage.

  • Jo

    Your popiah looks delicious, Cyn. Recently tried popiah at food court in Takayashima on Orchard Road. I’m really keen to try some here in Perth. Do you know of a place that has it on the menu?