Popiah (Spring Rolls)

Homemade Popiah recipe (Malaysian Spring Rolls) by SeasonWithSpice.com

Juicy turnip, sweet prawns and steamed crabmeat, Chinese lettuce, shredded omelet, fried shallots, tofu, a few dabs of hoisin sauce and sambal belacan, all bundled up in a thin wheat flour crepe.  And if there’s still room, why not a few more ingredients?

Popiah is the king of spring rolls.

Originating from Fujian province in southern China, popish  was brought to the Malay Peninsula by Hokkien/Teochew laborers during the British colonial period, and is now a famous street food in Penang and Singapore.

But some street food just tastes better when you cook it up at home.  So where do we start?

With the spring roll wrapper (popiah skin)…

If you’re in Penang, you can buy high quality popiah skin from Uncle Lim at Chowrasta Market.  With 50 years of experience, the jovial old man is one of the most famous popiah skin makers on the island.  It’s hypnotizing to watch him pace back and forth between two hotplates with a wheat-flour dough "glove" on his right hand, whipping the elastic dough ball like a yo-yo, slamming it down on a hotplate, yanking it off, and leaving a very thin pancake.

If you’re not in Penang, you can find the thin spring roll wrappers at Asian grocery stores, or if you have time, you can make it yourself.  Here’s a popiah skin recipe at Sea Salt with Food

cooking bangkuang for popiah

The filling must have turnip (also known as jicama or yambean).  Beyond that, it’s really up to you.  My mom always made a ‘superior’ version of popiah with many distinct layers of texture and flavor, and topped with homemade sambal belacan.  But with each additional ingredient, a lot more work is required since they need to be cooked separately.

ingredients for making homemade popiah spring rolls

Not really a snack for one.

That’s why popiah has become a party food.  All the cooked ingredients are laid out in separate bowls, and the rush is on for everyone to make their own, trying to squeeze as many ingredients into one without breaking the thin wrapper.

Messy, fun, and deliciously worth it.  That’s popiah.

Homemade Popiah recipe (Malaysian Spring Rolls) by SeasonWithSpice.com

Popiah recipe - by Season with Spice

What you’ll need:

20 fresh popiah or spring roll wrappers

(Bowl A) 1 cup bean sprouts, tailed and blanched
(Bowl B) 5 shallots, cut finely and fried
(Bowl C) 1/4 cup spring onions, chopped
(Bowl D) 1/4 cup peanuts, roasted, cooled and ground fine
(Bowl E) Fresh Chinese lettuce, washed and drained dry (normal lettuce is fine too)
*(Bowl F) 1 large turnip, shredded into thin slivers
(Bowl G) 2 pieces of firm bean curd, stir-fry with garlic
(Bowl H) 150g of small or medium prawns, deveined and shelled
(Bowl I) 4 eggs, cook into omelette and shred thinly

*Seasoning for turnip filling:
1 tsp light soy sauce
1 tsp oyster sauce
Generous dash of white pepper
1/2 tsp sugar
1 cup water

1/2 cup Hoisin sauce or sweet sauce
1/4 cup sambal* or chili sauce (blend chili with garlic)

Prepare Bowls A-E ahead of time.

Bowl F - Turnip:
1. In a wok, heat oil on medium fire, and stir-fry two cloves of chopped garlic until fragrant.  Then add in shredded turnip, and a dash of soy sauce, sugar and white pepper, and continue stir-frying on medium-high fire for about 5 minutes.
2. Add water and continue to cook on medium heat. Turnip should turn slightly soft in another 8-10 minutes.
3. Remove turnip from wok and transfer to a deep pot. Heat up the pot, cover and simmer the turnip on low heat for another 30 minutes until soft. Add more soy sauce and sugar if needed.
(Optional step: To enhance the flavor, you can add in boiled and shredded belly pork [3 layer pork] to cook with the turnip.)

Bowl G – Bean Curd:
1. While the turnip is simmering in the pot, heat oil using the same wok, add one clove of chopped garlic and fry the bean curd until lightly browned. Dish out and drain any liquid.

Bowl H – Prawns:
1. With the same wok again, add some oil, and heat. Stir-fry two cloves of garlic.  Then add in the prawns, and season with light soy sauce, white pepper, and oyster sauce. Stir-fry the prawns until cooked. Dish out.

Bowl I – Eggs:
1. Beat the eggs and fry them omelette-style in the same wok. Then cut into thin shreds.

Here comes the fun part. Get everyone to wrap their own popiah!  First tip - Do not get greedy and over-stuff the popiah or it will break.

1. Lay a piece of the popiah wrapper on a plate and spread one teaspoon of hoisin sauce and 1/2 teaspoon of sambal down the middle.
2. Place lettuce leaf over the sauces.
3. Spoon 2-3 tablespoons of the turnip filling onto the leaf. Make sure you strain the juice well or the wrapper will break. The juice will be used as a gravy over the popiah later.
4. In layers, top with fried bean curd, prawn, sliced egg omelette and fried shallot crisps. Garnish with ground peanuts and green onions.
5. Fold the sides of the wrapper, tuck in firmly and roll up tight. Cut into three to four pieces.
6. Pour a tablespoon of the turnip juice over the popiah. Serve & DEVOUR immediately.

1. Vegetables such as french beans, carrots or cabbage can be added to cook with the turnip filling. You can also add fresh shredded cucumbers.
2. My mom loves to add fresh crab meat if it is available in the market. If crab meat is used, steam the whole crab and shred the sweet meat. 
3. If you prefer larger prawns, you can boil the prawn with shell on. Once it is done, peel and halve the meat.
4. Most people use chili sauce, but my family has always used sambal belacan for a good kick.