Popiah aka Fresh Spring Rolls, is a Chaozhou dish made from rice paper wrappers, sautéed jicama, and toppings like lup cheong, eggs, peanuts, and dried shrimps!
What Is Popiah?
Popiah, also called Fresh Spring Rolll, is a Chaozhou/Teochew dish that we make at home. It's an assemble-it-yourself meal made from rice paper wrappers brushed with hoisin and Sriracha, then filled with sautéed jicama (the foundation of this dish), and toppings like lup cheong, egg, peanuts, and dried shrimp.
Popiah makes for a super fun group meal…we especially love popiah dinner parties. Growing up, we'd often have weekend dinners at grandma and grandma's house. Popiah nights were the most fun because they were so interactive. Picture this: a dozen of us around a big oblong table. The table is filled with giant bowls of sautéed jicama, and many different toppings. Everyone gets their own plate and start assembling individual popiah. Eat and repeat. Sooooo ono!
My dad often talks about the great street food they had as kids in Vietnam, including one famous popiah street vendor! In Vietnam it's called bò bía. The rolls were made on the spot and devoured then and there, standing on the street, in your school uniform. What a luxury, to be able to eat just one popiah "on the go." ^_^
Popiah In Different Countries
Popiah is also popular in Malaysia, Singapore, and Taiwan. Each country makes a slightly different version (can involve different wrappers, fillings, and style of cooking jicama).
This blog post is focused on the Chaozhou/Teochew version. This is the popiah that my parents grew up eating. It is also the version that is popular in Vietnam (popiah was introduced to Vietnam by Chaozhou/Teochew immigrants).
Bonus: In Vietnam they also make sweet popiah filled with sesame seeds and coconut!
How To Eat Popiah
You roll it with both hands and eat with your hands. Here's how it goes:
- Lay the rice paper wrapper on your plate.
- Brush the two sauces (hoisin and Sriracha) on the wrapper (make a fat brush that goes along the bottom third of the wrapper).
- Put in a spoonful of sautéed jicama (with the jicama juices)* on top of the sauces. Use as much/little jicama as you like.
- Sprinkle on all the toppings.
- Roll up the bottom third of the roll. Fold in the sides. Finish rolling all the way up.
- Eat and repeat ^_^
*It's important to also spoon the jicama juices on the wrapper. Why? Because we don't dip the wrapper in a bowl of water (which is what we usually do when making Vietnamese summer rolls), we depend on the jicama juices to moisten the wrapper. So be generous with the jicama juice.
Popiah Skin (Wrappers)
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With this Chaozhou/Teochew style of popiah, you can use the same rice paper wrappers used for making Vietnamese summer rolls. (Other countries use a different type of wrapper.)
Main idea is that the wrapper must be super thin and can be re-hydrated with water and jicama juices (we do not deep fry or further cook the rolls).
"Fresh Spring Rolls"
Important note: Popiah also goes by the name Fresh Spring Rolls. This can be VERY confusing because Spring Rolls are traditionally fried (it is Summer Rolls that we eat fresh/not fried).
Adding the word Fresh before Spring Rolls, is supposed to help differentiate (though I personally feel popiah is more akin to summer rolls than spring rolls).
What Is Jicama?
Jicama is a root vegetable. It's shaped like a ball. The skin is golden and inside is starchy and white. You can't eat the skin, but the inside is eaten both raw and cooked (we cook it for popiah).
What does jicama taste like? It has the crunch of water chestnuts, with the juicy factor of watermelons, and gentle sweetness of apples. Jicama is sweet and juicy with a beautiful, fresh crunch. It's also packed with vitamins and many consider it a superfood.
Jicama is the main ingredient in popiah. You want a medium size jicama (about 2-3 pounds). There are three steps to prepare jiacama for popiah:
- Wash and peel the skin
- Use a grater to grate the entire jicama.
- Stir fry the grated jicama with vegetable oil and minced garlic.
After you finish stir frying, pour the jicama into a serving bowl and set aside. Jicama is very "juicy" and will release lots of liquid in the bowl. Save this liquid! It is sweet and wonderful. The liquid will be used to moisten the popiah wrappers.
P.S. If you buy more that one jicama (we always buy multiples because we love making popiah), try eating the other one raw like a piece of fruit.
Peel off the skin, slice the jicama into wide sticks, and chill in the fridge. Eat cold. It's really refreshing. Kind of like an extra crunchy version of how you eat watermelon in the summer to cool off.
Popiah Fillings / Toppings / Sauce
The grated and sautéed jicama is the "core" filling - the most important part popiah. It serves as the foundation and bed on which to pile on all the other toppings. There are five key toppings that we always include:
- Lup cheong - sliced thin, pan fried till hot and crisp
- Eggs - make a plain omelet, cool, and then slice thin
- Peanuts - gently toast in a pan to warm through
- Dried shrimp - gently toast in a pan to warm through
- Thai basil - washed and picked
As long as you have the jicama (you cannot make popiah without jicama), the other toppings are pretty flexible. Other common toppings include:
- Fried shallots
- Bean sprouts
- Fresh shrimp (in place of dried shrimp)
You only need two types of sauces for popiah:
Don't put too much filling, or the wrapper will break. I like to roll up the bottom third (capturing all the filling in that first roll), then fold in the left and right sides. Then continue rolling all the way to the top.
When we make Vietnamese summer rolls, we normally dip the rice paper wrappers in a shallow dish of water for 2 seconds. This softens the wrappers so that we can pile on the fillings, roll, and eat.
But because popiah filling involves the super juicy jicama, exposing the wrapper to a dip in water and the jicama juices would make the wrapper too wet and soggy. This is why we rely on only the jicama juices to moisten the wrapper.
If after you roll the popiah and the skin still feels too hard, take a spoonful of the jicama juices and pour it over the popiah.
Note: Some people prefer really soft popiah skin. If that is the case, we won't judge if you decide to also dip the wrapper in a shallow dish water before assembling the popiah. My sister and I always did it that way as kids ^_^
Popiah (Chaozhou Fresh Spring Rolls) Recipe
See below, and hope you enjoy ^_^
- First, we prepare the jicama! Wash and use a peeler to remove the skin. Grate the entire jicama into a big bowl and set aside.
- Heat a tablespoon of vegetable oil in a large frying pan over medium-high heat. Add the minced garlic and fry for a minute (just until it starts to get fragrant but not yet browned). Add the grated jicama and a teaspoon of salt. Stir fry about 5 minutes (longer if you like the jicama softer, and shorter you prefer it more crunchy/crisp). Pour the cooked jicama into a large serving bowl and set aside. The jicama will be juicy/wet and there will be liquid at the bottom of the bowl. Do not drain this liquid (we use it in step 11).
- Now prepare the other ingredients. Eggs: beat the eggs, and cook a plain omelet. Cool and slice into thin pieces.
- Lup cheong: slice thin and pan fry until crisp (about 3-5 minutes).
- Peanuts: toast or warm gently in a frying pan.
- Thai basil: wash and set aside.
- Dried shrimp: warm gently in a frying pan (we keep dried shrimp in the fridge so the point of this step is just to get the shrimp warmed up).
- Put the hoisin sauce and Sriracha sauce into individual dipping bowls (about 1 tablespoon of each sauce each per person).
- On the dining table, arrange all the: fillings (jicama, lup chong, egg, dried shrimp, peanuts, Thai basil), sauces (hoisin and Sriracha), the wrappers, and a shallow dish of room temperature water.
- Now we start assembling! Take one wrapper, and spread a small spoonful each of the hoisin and Sriracha along the bottom third of the wrapper. Put a spoonful of the jicama along with some of the juice/liquid on top of the sauces. Top with a few pieces each of the lup chong, egg, dried shrimp, peanuts, and the Thai basil. Roll it up good (I like to roll up the bottom half, then fold in the left and right “sides”, then continue rolling it up all the way.)
- Now the popiah is ready to eat! If you like your roll a little more juicy/wet, you can pour a spoonful of the jicama juices over the finished roll, and then eat. I usually have 6-8 rolls per meal. Some people like to put a lot of filling, others like less. Tailor to your personal preference and enjoy ^_^