Popiah are a very popular Malaysian dish, the local version of an eggroll.  However, unlike almost all
eggrolls and lumpia (the Indonesian wrapped snack), popiah are usually not fried.  In that sense, they
are more like Vietnamese spring rolls, and are a refreshing snack when you aren’t in the mood for
something heavy and oily.  Of course, like Vietnamese spring rolls, popiah can be fried.  We never have
had the fried kind, though, and the best popiah stands that we’ve seen do their briskest business with
the non-fried kind.

Let us emphasize, though, that they are not just Vietnamese spring rolls in Malaysia.  They differ in two
ways.  To begin, the wrapping is different.  Popiah, like lumpia, have a wheat-flour and egg wrapper that
has a different text and taste than rice-flour and no-egg Vietnamese spring roll wrappers.  More than
that, the filling is different.  As far as we know, most Vietnamese spring rolls contain chicken or beef
or shrimp or pork, rice vermicelli, and usually some sort of herb like spicy basil and/or mint.
Sometimes they can have carrot and/or cucumber in them.  You serve them in a clear and sweet vinegar-
peanut-chili dip.  Popiah are very different, beginning with a warm jicama-based filling and continuing
with a thick soy and peanut sauce that is spread inside rather than served alongside as a dip.  In some
versions, as you will see below, they also betray a silly British influence of mayonnaise.

We’ll conclude with some etymology.  The word in Malay for jicama is sengkuang.  This, we believe, comes
from singkamas, the Tagalog word, which in turn came from Spanish, jicama, which was appropriated from
Nahuatl (a native Mexican language), which had the word xicama.  That’s some nice colonial food history
for you.  Jicamas are native to Central America, but that has not stopped it from becoming an integral
part of local cuisine.  For some reason, in Indonesia, we also have seen the word bangkuang in addition
sengkuang.  We don’t know why this would be.

Popiah: Basic Recipe

20 popiah skins (or eggroll wrappers, if popiah skins are unavailable)

1 large jicama root, at least 1 lb, peeled and shredded

1 can bamboo shoots, chopped

2 Tbsp. kecap manis

1/2 tsp. salt

3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

1/4 cup vegetable oil

1 large carrot, julienned

1 cucumber, peeled and seeded, julienned

1 cup of shallots, thinly sliced and deep fried

1/2 cup roasted salted peanuts, finely (but not too finely) chopped

Popiah Sauce

1/2 cup kecap manis

6 cloves garlic, peeled

2 Tbsp. salted peanuts

4 large chilies (see note below)

Optional Additions (see end of recipe below)

1/2 lb boneless chicken (cut into strips), shrimp (peeled and deveined), or a mix of the two

1 cup fresh crab meat

1/2 cup mayonnaise (yes, mayonnaise)

1 cup loosely chopped Boston (a.k.a. bibb or butter) lettuce

For the basic recipe, start by heating the oil over low heat in a wok.  When hot, add the garlic and
saute for a minute or so, making sure that the garlic does not brown.  Add the shredded jicama and the
bamboo shoots and stir through, then add salt and stir through again.  Heat through until bubbly–if
there’s not enough liquid, add a bit of water.  Cook, stirring occasionally, over low heat for about 20

To make the sauce,
boil the garlic in water for about one minute until hot and just starting to soften.
This takes some of the edge off of the flavor.  In a food processor or with a mortar and pestle, mash the
garlic with the peanuts until smooth.  Combine with the soy sauce and mix until smooth.  NOTE: You can
make a spicy version of this by adding the four large chilies, stems removed, while mashing the garlic
and peanuts.  A more authentically spicy version would also add a handful of Thai bird-eye chilies.  We
have seen it served both in the phenomenally-spicy and the non-spicy versions, but our very spicy version
is better for Western palates.

To construct, take a popiah skin and place it on a place.  Smear on about a teaspoon of the sauce.  Top
with a small bit of carrots and cucumber, then sprinkle on about a half-teaspoon of chopped peanuts and
shallots each.  Add a tablespoon of the warm jicama filling and roll up like a burrito.  Serve
immediately with extra sauce for dipping.

This is the basic version that we normally get.  You can also get something called salad popiah.  To make
salad popiah, remove the carrots and replace with a bit of crab meat and lettuce, and smear on a bit of
mayonnaise in addition to the popiah sauce.  We know that this sounds kinda gross, but really, it’s
actually quite tasty, even if you leave the crab meat out.  There is also a version that has a bit of
meat in it.  To make this, decrease the jicama by half, and add chicken/shrimp/both to the garlic first
after it been frying, and then cook until done, and then add the jicama and bamboo shoots and proceed as

Comment 1

  1. Riana October 23, 2006

    Thanks for sharing the recipe. Ever since I ate Poppiah at Golden Shoe Market in Singapore, I always crave for it. I’m gonna make it myself. Thanks again 🙂

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