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

…instead.

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…

...step

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

Done!

…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!

Author: suituapui

Ancient relic but very young at heart. Enjoys food and cooking...and travelling and being with friends.

11 thoughts on “Not that simple…”

  1. It is truly a labour of food the way you lovingly prepare all the ingredients to make the fillings for the popiah. Looks so delicious!

    I know self-praise is no praise but I gave one of those I brought home from Kuching that day to my sis…and she said mine was better. Hehehehehe!

  2. It is more fun when everyone does it together!!

    Yes, the labour of love is the best. I never make popiah from scratch. I know it takes a lot of work and time.

    I’m sure it is – see my replies to Irene and Phong Hong below.

    Sad that many don’t/can’t make popiah anymore. Not so bad in Kuching, can go out to eat and there are some good ones around but it is a dying tradition and eventually, our heritage will be lost. As it is, many things that we enjoyed in our younger days are no longer available and if they are, they are not the same – not nice anymore.

  3. I think preparing all the ingredients for the popiah is quite a tedious job with all the cutting and very time consuming but wrapping the popiah seems very interesting and easy. Anyway, the popiah you make looks really good. Thanks for sharing this touching video.

    I do not find it tedious but I am sure it would be great if everybody gets together and chips in. Every year, when I was young, my maternal family would have steamboat on New Year’s Eve (Dec 31st), the traditional charcoal one and everyone would gather at my grandma’s house to lend a hand in the preparation (and I got to enjoy the sliced abalone everytime – so nice in those days, not so nice anymore – that New Moon brand…and so expensive)…and of course, everyone enjoyed the dinner that night. Probably that was why the members of my maternal side of the family were always so close.

    These days, the extended family is non-existent and families are no longer as close as before. Sad.

  4. Oh yes, that is a whole lot of work! You sure have the patience and skill to finely slice all those ingredients. I think you beat the ladies flat hee..hee… So you can actually eat the popiah skin just like that? I have always thought the frozen ones have to be fried.

    Yes, my mum taught me well when she roped me in to help out in the kitchen, her fastidious nyonya ways. These days, most would think it is such a chore and just take the easy way out, use a blender, food processor and what not but without the love and the passion, that is what it is – a chore and they do not derive any pleasure from the process of cooking something and of course, with the missing “ingredients”, it will not be so nice.

    Yup! You can eat the skin just like that – just thaw and wrap with a damp towel but some brands, they will tell you to steam it first. Payung uses these too and will bake their mushroom roll in the oven to perfection, till nice and crispy.

    1. When I was young, my mother would prepare the fillings and we, children will do the wrapping. We also buy the frozen popiah skins and will steam the popiah skins before using them to wrap so that they are soft and warm.

      There are brands whereby steaming is required – they will state that in the instructions for use. I’ve used that once before.

  5. generous filling, everyone would love it!…agreed that popiah is a simple dish…but the process & preparations are not that simple.
    true lar…..popiah skin plays an important role.

    Symbolically, it is what binds everything together! Deep in meaning!

  6. Wahhh… These popiahs sure taste super good! So much ingredients and cooked with passion!

    Come on over! I’ll host a popiah party specially for you and you can be the judge of that for yourself! LOL!!!

  7. The love of your family makes you want to make popiah for them. Homemade popiah sounds so delicious. Now you are making me crave for popiah, not easy to find really nice popiah outside.

    No? Lots of nyonyas in Singapore, bet their popiah is the best! I love their kueh pai tee too!

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