Popiah is a fresh spring roll. Although is not specific to Ipoh (or even Malaysia), it is a popular dish here. It is also commonly found in places such as Indonesia, Taiwan, and Singapore. Indeed, even its nickname – the “Asian Burrito” – suggests its wide availability throughout Asia. However, its nickname gives it a disservice. The popiah filling is much more intricate and is comprised of numerous more ingredients than a regular burrito.
Despite not being indigenous to Ipoh, its roots are connected to the city. Popiah originates and remains popular in the Fujian province of China (particularly Xiamen) and the bordering Chaoshan province. The Hokkien and Teochew diaspora from these respective provinces are found throughout Southeast Asia. Although most of the Chinese heritage in Ipoh is Cantonese, there is still a significant Hokkien and Teochew influence. Consequently, you will find Popiah throughout the city, especially in its wide selection of food courts / hawker centres.
So, what are the textures and flavours of this fresh spring roll? Firstly, there is the actual ‘wrap’ that is essentially a soft, thin pancake made from an exceedingly gelatinous and wet wheat flour dough. A small ball of this dough is spread onto a hot steel plate and lifted until a very thin layer of the wet dough sticks to the plate and begins to cook. This process quickly leaves a “wrap” that can be peeled from the hot plate and is ready for filling.
Sauce and Fillings
Secondly, there is the sauce. The fillings for popiah vary, but typically contain a lavish amount of ingredients including an aromatic and sweet tasting shredded yam bean. This bean might be blended with shrimp paste, soy sauce or hoisin sauce. Thirdly, beyond the sauce there are ample crunchy vegetables (mostly grated). These include steamed or stir-fried turnip, fried shallot, bean sprouts, lettuce, carrots, and fried tofu. Moreover, shredded omelette, pieces of Chinese sausage, and crushed peanuts are also common ingredients. There is of course, the option of a sweet and spicy chilli sauce to give it that final kick.
In Ipoh the popiah roll is often cut into slices so they can be easily picked up or used with chopsticks.