Not that simple…

Chap Goh Meh or the 15th Night of the Chinese Lunar New Year marks the end of the festivities and that night, members of the family will sit down for another dinner, not unlike the one on the eve of Chinese New Year’s Day except that these days, with the world getting smaller, families have grown so much apart and many cannot stay that long so many would have gone back already with their own families to where they came from in the other parts of the country or in countries far away.

In Mandarin, it is called Yuan Xiao Jie (元宵节), which means the Prime Night Festival and it is also called the Lantern Festival, not to be confused with the Mid-Autumn Festival which we often refer to as the Lantern Festival as well.

Usually, we would have a steamboat dinner as I do feel that a steamboat dinner with everyone in the family is so very symbolic. It helps enhance togetherness and unite all the family members as they sit around the pot, talking and eating while at the same time, laughing and enjoying one another’s company, thus creating a natural atmosphere of closeness among all those present.

This year, however, Chap Goh Meh fell on a Saturday and every Saturday evening, we would go to the novena and sunset evening service in church. That was why we decided to have a simple popiah lunch…

Popiah lunch


It sure looks simple but having a popiah get-together entails quite a lot of work. I had to cut the long beans very thinly and also the carrot while my missus used the grater to grate the mangkuang/sengkuang (turnip). I like to add carrot these days for the colour and the taste and unlike before, I do not add taugeh (bean sprouts) anymore as it may go bad plus I do not like it overcooked, all shrivelled up, especially after reheating. The tau kua (bean curd cake) would have to be cut into thin slices too and somebody would have to peel the garlic and chop till really very fine for use.

I had bought the prawns earlier and the shell had to be removed and the crustaceans deveined and on the actual day, I just had to chop and mince them. I did not use any minced meat that day. No, that’s not all! I also had to pound the chilies for the paste and crush the kacang tumbuk (crushed peanut), fry thin pieces of omelette and cut them into long, very thin strips and there was also the caramelised sugar syrup (what people loosely call tee chio) to prepare too.

Personally, I do not think it is all that tedious, just that it needs quite a bit of time to do everything slowly and passionately to prepare all that will be required. Perhaps, if everyone gets into the thick of the action together and helps out with this and that, it will be done in a jiffy but this cranky old man is very fussy about cutting and pounding everything by hand with perfect precision, the way the folks in the previous generations would do it.

We can’t get really good popiah skin here plus it is also very expensive. The quality is so poor, thick and rubbery, yellowish with a  kind of fermented/flour smell and tears easily and we end up throwing a lot of it away. These days, I would just buy the frozen supermarket ones, not the best, of course but the brand that I use is not too bad.

To cook the filling, I fried the garlic in a bit of oil till golden brown, followed by the minced prawns and the long beans and carrot. These may take a while as they would have to be cooked till soft – I do not like them hard in my popiah. Lastly, I added the tau kua and the mangkuang/sengkuang with a few dashes of oyster sauce for added taste…

Popiah filling

To wrap the popiah, I like to line the base with lettuce so the chili paste will not wet the skin, rendering it soft and prone to tearing. On top of the chili, I would put the filling, followed by the strips of omelette…

Step by

…before sprinkling a whole lot of the kacang tumbuk on top…


I will apply the caramelised sugar syrup to the sides of the skin before rolling and wrapping it up…


…and it will help make everything stick in place.

We may be able to get some pretty good popiah in Kuching, here and here, for instance, but not in Sibu and even those good ones would pale in comparison to the ones we would make ourselves, following our family’s own recipe that has been handed down from my mum’s generation to my generation – the best in the world, second to none!

Many would ask why bother going through all that hassle of making and eating popiah

Eat it

– just go out for a nice dinner somewhere and be done with it but if you ask me, I would say that part of the enjoyment is in the preparation, truly a labour of love and there is a whole lot more significance in the sitting down together as a family to wrap the spring rolls and enjoy eating them together and furthermore, many fail to see the symbolism of everything wrapped closely together in such close proximity in the popiah.

Well, if you don’t see how it actually goes way beyond what may look so very superficially simple, nothing much to get excited about, this short film may be able to help you understand and at the same time, arouse some of those emotions involved but be forewarned – make sure you have a box of tissue beside you!