Memories of Old Manila. Somehow Lumpia Shanghai has associations of Old Manila, the Spanish walled city of Intramuros and Binondo, the ancient Chinatown of Manila, where I first ate the dish. visiting our attorney in Manila, whose office was in the old Spanish walled city.
Our talk was a long one, and as lunch hour approached, he suggested we continue over lunch. “We Filipinos like to cement relationships over meals,” he said. “Let’s go to my favorite Chinese restaurant near here.”
The restaurant was in the old Chinese quarter of Binondo, near Intramuros. The streets in Intramuros and Binondo are so narrow, we went, not by care, but by horse carriage, the Filipino kalesa. The mid day sun was sweltering, as so often in Manila, and the humidity was off the scale. Our shirts were sticking to our backs by the time we reached our goal.
Our horse’s hooves sounded clip-clop as it pulled us through the narrow lanes of the Chinese quarter and we finally alighted at what seemed to be a humble Chinese restaurant.
Its sign announced that its specialty was dishes from the region of Shandong. Inside there was air conditioning, silver flatware and black teak chopsticks, starched white tablecloth and napkins.
The menu included winter melon soup, steamed fish with ginger and a variety of Chinese vegetables and side dishes, including one dish with frog’s legs cooked with fermented black beans and a dish of snails cooked in soy sauce and garlic. But what I most remember was the appetizers including Lumpia Shanghai, together with the ice-cold San Miguel beer.
The day was so hot and humid as so often in Manila and the cold San Miguel was very welcome, but the lumpia made it perfect. The contrast between the chilling beer and the crunchiness of the lumpia, with the inimitable sauce, remained ever since.
Later I started collecting recipes for Lumpia Shanghai and found that there might be as many of these as there are cooks. Every family seemed to have its own recipe for Lumpia Shanghai. Each was good and each recipe was described as the best, better than any others.
Here’s one recipe for Lumpia Shanghai that I got from the wife of a Filipino friend who got it from her mother, who had never written it down before. I can’t guarantee that it’s absolutely the best lumpia recipe anywhere, it is good and has always been a success at parties. The recipe can easily be doubled. Even if you double it, there are likely be few leftovers.
This recipe will be the hit of any cocktail party where you offer it.
- ½ pound lean pork, ground
- ½ pound shrimps, finely chopped
- ½ cup water chestnuts, chopped
- 4 pieces dried mushrooms, soaked then chopped
- ½ cup green onions, cut very fine
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1 egg
- 1 teaspoon soy sauce
- 30 – 35 pieces lumpia or egg roll wrappers
In a bowl, combine the pork, shrimp and water chestnuts. Season with the salt and pepper. Blend in the egg and soy sauce. Mix to combine the mixture thoroughly. At one end of a lumpia or egg roll wrapper spoon about two tablespoons of the pork and shrimp mixture and roll it tightly. Brush the end of the wrapper with water to seal it. Cut the rolls into pieces about 2 inches long. Deep fry them in hot oil and dry on paper towels, then serve with Sweet and Sour Sauce. After these are cooked, I like to drain them well on paper, then pile up in a kind of neat mountain on a serving platter and serve immediately with the sauce. Your guests will gobble!
Sweet and Sour Sauce.
- ¼ cup vinegar
- ¼ cup sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- ¼ cup stock or water
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch dispersed in
- 2 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon cooking oil
- 2 tablespoons tomato catsup
Combine the vinegar, sugar, salt, stock and cornstarch. Then heat the cooking oil and fry the catsup, finally add the vinegar mixture and boil until thick, which will take a few minutes. It’s a good idea to make the sauce when all the lumpia have been rolled and are ready to fry so it will be ready for immediate use once the lumpia are cooked.
If you should go to Manila, it’s still possible to go to what is left of the old Spanish walled city of Intramuros and like Nellie Huang in a walking tour, you can visit Binondo, sometimes called the oldest Chinatown in the world – although no one really knows for sure – and they are still serving Lumplia Shanghai there, sometimes in some simple shops whose customers insist the products sold there are the best anywhere.