When people talk about Filipino food, one dish that always comes up is Lumpia Shanghai, the crispy egg roll appetizer or side dish with its unique sweet and sour dipping sauce.
Chicken and pork adobo, cardereta,or pancit may be national dishes of the Philippines – depending on whom you talk to – but lumpia has to be the best snack food from that country.
It’s popular not only in the Philippines but wherever people have had the chance to try it, in Filipino restaurants or homes anywhere in the world. What is it that makes this dish so popular?First, there’s the filling, with a mixture of pork and shrimp that seems to enhance each other, like a kind of original Surf and Turf, albeit with pork instead of beef, anyway with a meat from the fields and one from the sea combined.
The combination is a perfect blend of the flavors of meat and seafood, which compliment each other without being too rich.
That means after eating one, you want to eat another. And another. And there’s a touch of crispness from the water chestnuts in the filling.
Then there’s the wrapping, paper-thin, like won ton wrappers, and fried crisp in hot oil. If it’s done right, this adds a note of crispness and flavor but without any greasiness.
Finally, there’s the sauce, the so-called Agrodolce Sauce, or sweet and sour dipping sauce. The term agrodolce comes from the Mediterranean region and there are many sauces by that name in several of the European cuisines which are sweet and sour.
But the one used with Philippine lumpia is different from any other sweet and sour The combination of sweet and sour, so characteristic of much Filipino cooking, adds a contrast to the richness of the lumpia.
Finally, there is the tomato sauce in the Agrodolce sauce. Tomatoes are not native to China or the Philippines and the Spanish colonists taught Filipinos to cultivate tomatoes when they colonized the islands.
The inclusion of the tomato taste into the sauce as well as the characteristic Filipino mix of sour and sweet make Lumpia Shanghai one of the earliest Fusion foods.
It’s also a perfect finger food and ideal for cocktails or any party.
The original Lumpia egg rolls must have come from the Chinese Mainland around the 16th century, when Chinese from the Fukien region started migrating to the Philippines, lured by the rich sources of trepang or sea cucumber, a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.
They brought their Chinese recipes and food techniques with the and adapted them to local conditions and ingredients. The abundance of seafood in the Philippine waters may have inspired inclusion of shrimp into what was perhaps originally a pork roll.
It can be made with just pork, but the pork and shrimp version is best.
The name Lumpia comes from a Chinese term Run Bing 潤餅; , which means something like Shining Cake.
There are many forms of lumpia, which can be defined as a dumpling or stuffing with an edible wrapper. Many are raw and there is the cooked variety. Of these, the most popular is the Lumpia Shanghai, but the name is misleading, as it probably has little or nothing to do with the city of Shanghai itself, but is a reference to the Chinese origin of the dish.
(To Be Continued)