Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Miscellaneous Food: The Popiah Wrap

As a food writer, food blogger and that awful, insulting term "foodie", people expect you to always have very cultured, refined tastes in food. For the most part, you do. I was brought up in a terribly picky food culture and food family. I cook for my family and you can be sure they'll be pointing it out (loudly) if the fish is even a half minute overdone. It raises you with an awareness, a gratitude, an appreciation that is quite unrivalled.

But....at the end of the day, I am a ham and cheese, linen and twill person. Everybody who really loves food is. Look at ChubbyHubby, he's a Mac and Cheese man, a moo-shoo guy at heart. We all crave simplicity in life, a reminder of who we are and used to be.

Sure, we can all splash out on obscenely expensive champagne and eat our way through blinis of foie gras and caviar, we can eat to live, to celebrate, to impress. But at the end of the day, real food (and I guess this is what the Southerners mean by the term soul food) is about comforting, providing and getting to the heart of what makes us happy.

It has been years since anybody special has actually cooked me a meal, yes, believe it. And I don't mean a I-am-showing-off-breaded-portobello-mushroom-four-course-spread, that I've had. I mean a warm mayo-filled tuna sandwich, a morning scrambled egg omellete, a soupy bowl of macaroni and minced pork, a regular spaghetti bolognese that actually has cheese grated on it. Something honest, understanding and which someone cared enough to do.

This seems a long preamble to a post about popiah but it made me think that I'm starting to appreciate the old, simple recipes and I will definitely focus more on my versions of comfort food in the coming month.

Colin and I never turn down a popiah invitation because well..because we love it and because we love that someone stood there and peeled, chopped prawns, crab, egg, chinese sausage, turnip, beans, carrot, 13 different condiments and 9 fillings for our eating pleasure. Clearly, we are not the only children who feel this way, as the table was filled with prodigal siblings.

What is popiah? Well, its a Hokkien-style fresh spring roll common in Singapore and Malaysia. Popiah is often eaten in Fujian, China on the Qingming (Day of Ancestral Remembrance) Festival.

A popiah "skin" is a thin pancake made from wheat flour which is covered with a sweet sauce and with or without hot chilli sauce. The filling is mainly finely grated and steamed jicama (known locally as bangkuang), which has been cooked with a combination of other ingredients such as bean sprouts, French beans, and lettuce leaves, along with grated carrots, and shredded omelette. As a fresh spring roll, the popiah skin itself is not fried.

In Singapore and Malaysia there are "popiah parties," where the ingredients are laid out and guests make their own popiah with proportions of ingredients to their own personal liking. This is the one we were at and this is my lovely namesake, also called Weilin, demonstrating how to roll a popiah!

So good. So simple. So healthy. Now why can't life always be a popiah party?

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