There are only a handful of foods I can remember experiencing for the first time as a child. Some memories are in the kitchen with my mom; others linger on the taste of something new.
To this day, one of my strongest food memories takes me back to middle school, when I practically lived at church between Sunday and Wednesday services and classes at its academy during the week. I can’t recall the event exactly — whether it was a potluck after a service or a party — but the food is clear as day.
At first glance, I probably assumed they were egg rolls (even though they looked closer to spring rolls, but hell, I didn’t know what those were then). Egg rolls and chicken wings. But one bite proved me wrong.
The chicken wings were perfectly crisp and salty, with some umami mouthfeel I still to this day cannot adequately verbalize. I’ve never had their like before and probably never will again.
But back to the egg roll that wasn’t. Hundreds of them filled shiny aluminum trays, their golden brown wrappers glistening after the fry. I sank my teeth into crunchy layers that gave way to a meaty filling the likes of which I’d never tasted before.
I’m not sure I learned the name then either. But I knew the family that made them had moved to the States from the Philippines and they owned a restaurant in town. If I didn’t know the name before I ate at their place, I certainly never forgot it after.
Turns out, there aren’t many Filipino restaurants around. I know, I looked. All the time,
in fact. I wanted so badly to relive that memory, to taste the lumpia once again. It wasn’t until a visit to my sister in Denver that I lucked out.
The name differed slightly: lumpiang shanghai. But all the things I loved remained.
It was as if time stood still.
The moment was all too brief. But I kept thinking about the lumpia (and this amazing barbecue chicken — shoutout to the Sunburst Grill) — so much so that I returned on my next visit and again when I moved there temporarily last winter.
When I finally settled into my new digs, I decided to try my hands at a recipe I’d been saving for a while — with a couple of tweaks of course.
They’re good but not as good as that first memory.
To be honest, the cook wasn’t perfect. The first set of spring roll wrappers I used did not fry well at all, and the second set sized a bit larger than I wanted. So the lumpia rolled closer to the size of an egg roll when they really should have been much smaller. Luckily, I live near an Asian market and I’ve found the right ones so I am all set for the next time I make a batch.
Despite the hiccups, the lumpia still retained the meatiness and crispiness I love — so I consider that a win.
Prep time: 20 minutes. Cook time: 5. Makes: 50-60 lumpia.
1 tbsp sesame oil
1 lbs ground pork
1/2 lb shrimp
1/4 cup yellow onion
1/4 cup celery
1/4 cup carrot
3 tbsp soy sauce
1 large egg
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp black pepper
2 tsp garlic
square spring roll wrappers
small bowl of water
oil for frying
First of all, let me say a food processor is your friend here. I used mine to quickly chop the shrimp, onion, celery and carrot (separately).
While you prepare the lumpia, heat the oil (I used vegetable but others recommend canola or peanut) to 350 degrees. The amount of oil you’ll need will depend on what you use to fry these in. I used a small dutch oven that took about 5 cups.
Combine all ingredients listed before the wrappers in a large bowl and mix together by hand until thoroughly combined. If you want, you can test the taste of the filling before rolling all the lumpia by frying some off in a pan. Adjust as needed. (I added the sesame oil to my recipe, so that might be something you add little by little in after a taste test.)
Lay a spring roll wrapper on a flat surface, so it points like a diamond toward you. Scoop about a tablespoon of the mixture out and roll it between your hands so it forms a cylinder about four inches long. Place it close to the end of the corner pointing toward you, leaving enough wrapper on the sides to fold.
Then fold the edges of the wrapper in. Start with the corner pointed toward you by flipping it on top of the filling. Then tuck in the sides tightly and roll away from you until a small portion of the top corner remains.
Seal the wrapper by wiping the inside with a wet finger then finish rolling and press firmly around the edges.
Repeat. Like a lot.
Your oil should be hot enough by now. Drop a few of those babies in and cook about 3-5 minutes, until the wrapper is golden brown. Remove and place on a plate with paper towels to soak up excess oil.
Serve with a sweet chili sauce, or try the Kitchen Confidante’s sauce here.
Note: You can freeze the lumpia after they’re rolled. Just make sure to store them in an airtight container/bag. You can fry them frozen, but it will take a couple of minutes longer.