Lumpia has always brought a sort of nostalgic discomfort to me — more specifically, to my stomach. Lumpia is simply a fried egg roll filled with ground pork and vegetables. But after coming face-to-face with it at every family party and eating them a couple hundred times, lumpia made an inevitable departure from my diet.
Living in Humboldt County as an Asian-Pacific Islander came with the sinking realization that the nearest Filipino restaurant or Asian supermarket with regular business hours was about 300 miles south. Where was I supposed to get balut (boiled duck still in the egg) to snack on and simultaneously gross out my friends? Where could I get halo-halo shaved ice without a "hello to you, too" or a genuinely concerned expression? I waited impatiently until I returned home for school breaks for my beloved Filipino food.
And at Humboldt State University there was a default list of questions, starting with "You're not Chinese?" and sometimes ending with "So you don't eat dog?" Some people would get excited to hear I was Filipina and continue with either, "Do you know how to make lumpia?" or "Would you make me lumpia?"
I'd spent hours of precious childhood Saturday afternoons helping my grandparents make lumpia, wanting nothing more than to go outside and get away from the smell of vegetable oil. I rolled my eyes at the thought of making lumpia or even having it anywhere near me.
Bringing lumpia back into my life? That was a hard pass.
When I made lumpia for the first time in years, it was out of sheer stress and anxiety. (Cooking to relieve stress is healthier than other vices.) I then brought some of the lumpia to work to get rid of my food nemesis.
They were eaten in a matter of seconds. I didn't think anything of it until the next day, when a couple of my coworkers came up to me and told me (one yelled) that they would pay me to make lumpia for them every week. I thought about this proposition. I have always aspired to be a chef, to make food to make people happy. I wanted to cook for people because I wanted to.
But I was also dirt broke. I needed to make some kind of profit to support myself through the last semester of my college career. Making lumpia for people was not my idea of a good time but I set prices with my two coworkers and told them I would have their lumpia by the end of the week.
I found myself standing at my kitchen counter, staring down a rather intimidating head of cabbage, thinking back to the days where I ate lumpia all the time. I remembered all the things that made me sick to my stomach about lumpia as I diced an onion: the pork (something I stopped eating for a while because it made me ill), the tiny amount of vegetables and/or nutrients, the fact they are deep-fried. All of these things factored into what I didn't like about these egg rolls.
Before I knew it, I was forearm-deep in a mixture of ground pork, shredded vegetables, salt and pepper. I heard the oil in the pan on the stove begin to pop. I wrapped tablespoons of the mixture into dozens of egg wrappers and watched the lumpia closely as they turned golden brown in the pan.
Then my roommate and I split a lumpia and took a bite — something I dreaded — to see if it was at least edible.
I finished the piece of lumpia I still had in my mouth and ate two more right after that. The pork was cooked perfectly, the crunch of cabbage, carrots and onions, the fresh hits of ginger and cilantro made my stomach grumble happily. I fought the urge to sneak another lumpia into my room.
Lumpia was delicious once more.
This recipe is adapted from the one my grandma taught me and I've added a few more ingredients. Makes about 25 egg rolls. They're best served with sweet and sour sauce, which you can usually find in the Asian section of any grocery store.
1 pound ground pork, unseasoned
½ cup cabbage, shredded
½ cup carrots, shredded
¼ cup white onions, diced
2/3 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
3 tablespoons garlic, minced
3 tablespoons ground ginger
2 tablespoons paprika
2 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons black pepper
25-30 square eggroll wrappers (find these in the refrigerated vegetarian section of any grocery store)
Fill a pan almost halfway with vegetable or canola oil and heat to 350F. Set up a plate strainer with paper towels to drain excess oil from the cooked lumpia.
Meanwhile, combine all ingredients — except for the wrappers — together in a bowl. Mix thoroughly. Place a wrapper diagonally on your work surface so you're looking at a diamond shape. Spoon about 2 tablespoons of the mixture onto one corner of the wrapper and roll it away from you about halfway. Then fold over the left and right sides of the wrapper. Brush water at the top end of the wrapper to seal it and roll it the rest of the way. Repeat until you've used up all the filling.
Once the oil reaches 350 degrees, place the lumpia gently in the pan until it turns golden brown, turning once. Remove the crispy rolls and place them on the paper towel-lined plate for a couple of minutes before moving them to a serving dish.