Vegetarian fresh spring rolls

Vegetarian fresh spring rolls


Street Food Asia
Alan Benson

Many Asian countries lay claim to the ‘ultimate’ popiah, a fresh spring roll with a really thin wrapper (made using a rather wet, wheat flourbased dough) that originated in Fujian Province in southern China. The popiah that in-the-know KL-ites flock to eat is the one at SisterS Crispy Popiah in Imbi Market – they’ve got a few outlets around town but this stall is the original. When you go you’ll most likely see Miss Mei Lim, one of the owners, at the counter, assembling her popiah with head-spinning skill and speed. There are always long queues and every popiah is made fresh to order. They cook their own skins too (not everyone does), which makes all the difference. As the name of her stall suggests, Mei Lim loads plenty of crisp items into the filling, first spreading thick sauce over the wrapper then building up layers using bamboo shoots, fried shallots, bean sprouts, ground peanuts, grated daikon radish and more. Once the skin is stacked with filling, it’s formed into a fat roll then cut into pieces. I notice people really stocking up, buying four or five popiah at a time. Do give this recipe a go – I won’t pretend making popiah skins isn’t an art but even if yours aren’t perfect, they’ll still taste better than storebought ones.


Quantity Ingredient
1 tablespoon peanut oil
1 garlic clove, finely chopped
75g bean sprouts
65g grated daikon radish
1 small carrot, grated
50g young fresh or tinned bamboo shoots, finely sliced
75g finely shredded chinese cabbage
25g glass noodles, soaked in hot water for 20 minutes, then drained
60g finely sliced asian celery, (see glossary)
1 small spring onion, finely sliced
50g fried tofu puffs, finely sliced
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
12 butter lettuce leaves
12 popiah skins, (see recipe below, or use frozen ones)
1 1/2 tablespoons see method for ingredients
1 1/2 tablespoons Fried red Asian shallots
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped peanuts
chinese-style chilli sauce, for dipping

Popiah skins

Quantity Ingredient
500g plain flour
2 teaspoons sea salt


  1. To make the popiah skins, use an electric mixer with a paddle attachment to beat the flour, salt and 500 ml water on a medium–high speed for 30 minutes. The dough will be ready when it is smooth, rubbery and comes away from the side of the bowl. Now knead the dough by hand, by repeatedly lifting it up and slamming it back down into the bowl until it starts to hold together in ropes. Cover and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, heat a wok over a medium–high heat. Add the peanut oil and sauté the garlic for 1 minute, or until fragrant. Add the bean sprouts, daikon, carrot, bamboo shoots, cabbage and noodles and stir-fry for 2 minutes. Now add the celery, spring onion and tofu and stir-fry for a further minute. Season with the salt, sugar and soy sauce and stir-fry for 1 minute more. Remove the mixture from the wok and leave to cool for 5 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into about five small batches for easy handling. Heat a 26 cm non-stick crêpe pan over a medium heat. Hold the dough with one hand and smear it over the hot pan in a circular motion, only just covering the surface of the pan. The dough should be extremely thin, and barely but evenly covering the base of the pan. Cook for 1 minute, or until the edge of the crêpe starts to curl up. Using your other hand, carefully peel the skin from the pan and place it on a plate. Continue making more skins until you have used up all the dough. (Any unused sheets can be frozen.)
  4. To assemble the rolls, place a lettuce leaf on a popiah skin, then place a little vegetable mixture lengthways over the lettuce. Add a sprinkle of fried garlic, fried shallots and peanuts. Roll the bottom up, then fold the left and right sides in, creating an envelope. Now keep rolling up, into a nice tight roll. Repeat with the remaining ingredients.
  5. Slice each roll into thirds and serve with chilli sauce.
South-East Asian
Street Food
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