This holiday season, I was truly heartened to see many of my Pinoy & Pinay friends and family across the world connect with their Filipino heritage by rollin', fryin' and eatin' LUMPIA!
Even though the basic principles of making lumpia shanghai are fairly straightforward -- cook and season ground meat and vegetable stuffing, wrap in egg roll wrappers, then deep fry until golden -- many things *could* go wrong. Perhaps it's because of this deceptive simplicity and the time intensive nature of the dish that some batches of lumpia go awry.
Like many dishes of its ilk -- Nepali momos and other dumplings -- lumpia shanghai are party food. You need a crew of two or three or more friends around to help cook, wrap and fry! Sharing is caring. More hands make the work so much easier and faster!
Building a Better Lumpia
Who might know how to build a better lumpia? This past October, Natalia and I visited New York City for two packed days of interviews and Filipino food-ing, including Lumpia Shack. Thanks to a gracious introduction by the tour de force behind the Filipino Food Movement and Savor Filipino, Joann Boston, we met owner and Chef of Lumpia Shack, Neil Syham. In the early days, we learned, Chef Neil, his wife Angie and their crew rolled 3,000 to 5,000 lumpia every week by hand, and on very busy weeks, they roll up to 10,000 lumpia!
TEN THOUSAND LUMPIA? I believe we have found our lumpia experts.
While Lumpia Shack now offers many other delicious snack or merienda food like decadent crispy pata fries (perfect for sharing, your cardiologist might say) and main entrees like a pork adobo ramen burger that is out of control, of course chef's Neil's house was built on these little egg rolls.
"I feel we are the pioneer in making a better Lumpia by respecting the traditional recipes and also modernizing Lumpia by creating these out-of-this-world fillings such as Sisig, Adobo Chicken, garlic rice, Shrimp Sinigang Lumpia to name a few," said Chef Neil.
"By using classic Filipino dishes we love from our childhood, it allowed our customers, both Filipino and not, to get a little burst of flavor from these classic dishes in a form that was fun and easy to eat."
Before opening their Greenwich village storefront, Lumpia Shack was a popup at Smorgasburg. (In fact, Lumpia Shack is still holds it down at the Brooklyn-based food market, open on weekends.)
"We felt that Lumpia was a great medium to showcase Filipino flavors and culture. We wanted to introduce our versions of Lumpia Shanghai to everyone -- including fellow Filipinos -- in a way that would take it to the mainstream," said Chef Neil.
Fellow Filipinos you say, Chef?
Many, if not all, of the Filipino chefs we have interviewed echoed Chef Neil's sentiment that the highly critical customers are usually fellow Filipinos.
According to Chef Neil, the over-scrutiny is holding Filipino food back: "[As Filipinos ourselves,] we find that a major crutch of popularizing Filipino food itself has come from our own culture."
"We all know that our mom's or Lola's recipes will always hold a special place in your homes, but in order to spread Filipino food and flavors -- as chefs and restaurateurs -- we have to find new ways to promote our culture and food and embrace the chefs that are doing this today."
And let the church say... AMEN!
Rollin' rollin' rollin' -- LUMPIA!
Here are Chef Neil and crew's top tips to make your lumpia what everyone looks forward to at the Filipino party every year.
Don't use ground beef.
Wait, really? Yes, REALLY, said Chef Neil. "Don't use meat that will overcook fast, i.e. ground beef! Make sure you use moist and tender meat or your Lumpia will be dry!" A lumpia is a terrible thing to waste!
Filling should be cooked and juicy, but not contain too much water.
Why? Too much water or moisture will cause the lumpia to explode! Exploding with flavor? Good! Exploding in hot oil? Eh, no good.
"Leftovers make amazing fillings. Next time you make adobo, if it be pork or chicken, save some leftovers, take out any bone or cartilage and put your filling in a food processor and pulse for a few seconds till you get a nice minced consistency," advised Chef Neil.
Wrap the lumpia tight and seal the wrapping with an egg wash!
This helps to ensure that the lumpia evenly cook, and don't fall apart at the last step.
Use great ingredients.
Since there's not much that goes into a lumpia, each ingredient needs to be excellent. Said Chef Neil, "We use a local NY heritage pork (secret) blend that is 10x more expensive than what you can get at the supermarket and you can taste the difference! The meat is juicy tender and full or flavor."
Get a good wrapper.
Should be supple, not too moist or dry, as close to fresh as possible (even wrappers defrosted from frozen are ok). Chef Neil said to keep the wrappers in waiting moist by covering them with a damp paper towel. Using good wrappers will help your lumpia have a great crunch and color.
Enough said! :)
Thanks, Lumpia Shack!
Please help us in congratulating Chef Neil and his staff on being named NUMBER ONE on the New York Times' Best Cheap Eats of 2014! They made the cover of the NYT Food section -- that's their Greenwich Village storefront under "Hungry City." Add this to the list of accolades by diners and critics alike. Congratulations, Chef Neil and the Lumpia Shack fam!
Lumpia Shack Snackbar is located on 50 W. Greenwich, New York City. Next time you are in New York, make sure you visit them!