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.
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.
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.
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.
Caleb preferred a deconstructed popiah, painstakingly assembled then vigorously pulled apart and savoured bit by bit.
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.
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).
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.
For sweets, a selection of homemade treats. First, vanilla custard tarts with orange syrup glaze made by Angela, Mark and their girls.
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.
My sister CW brought mooncakes – red bean with salted egg yolk and my favourite, durian 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.
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.
Do you enjoy MYO-style meals with your family?