A popiah recipe for a truly Singapore New Year Re-Union Dinner
February 10th – it’s New Year again!
This is the New Year my family really celebrates. And for our traditional New Year’s Eve re-union dinner, we make a special popiah. Something everyone always clamors to be invited for.
(An aside for those not in the know – Popiah is a mixture of braised julienned vegetables and meat wrapped in a soft rice flour roll with lots of ‘sides’…)
The popiah at our house is a combination my grandmother’s Peranakan recipe and the Hokkien version my mother’s sister learnt in her father-in-law’s house.
Here’s how we make it:
A – The filling
4 jicama turnips from Vietnam
6 packets of preserved winter bamboo from Taiwan
6 medium sized carrots from Australia
5 stalks of leeks from the USA
6 squares of puff-fried tofu processed in Singapore from Brazilian soybeans
½ kg of boiled belly pork from Indonesia
1 kg of defrosted, boiled and shelled fresh shrimp from Vietnam or Thailand
Process 20 heads of garlic from China until very smooth.
Heat up 1 cup of canola oil made from Canadian rapeseed
Deep fry pounded garlic till lightly golden.
Add 1 bottle of Singapore manufactured yellow bean paste made from Brazilian soybeans.
Fry until fragrant.
Stir in julienned turnips, bamboo, carrots, leeks, puff-fried tofu belly pork and shrimp. Mix well.
Leave to simmer while you make the blended pork and prawn stock.
Secret # 1 – Pork and prawn stock
Reserve water from boiling the pork ribs.
Fry prawn shells and heads in a wok till they are fragrant.
Mix pork stock with prawn shells and prawn heads and blend on high speed.
Pour the blended stock through a fine muslin cloth and save it.
Discard all the prawn shells and bits.
Add blended pork and prawn stock to the simmering mixture of julienned vegetables, pork and prawn.
Simmer on low heat for 4 hours.
When ready, ladle out into a large bowl making sure to drain out excess liquid.
Now serve with —
B – The flour wrappers
Secret #2 – The flour wrappers must be handmade in Singapore less than 12 hours before you start eating and from the old Havelock Road food centre.
This year, the owners decided to go on holiday early. We had to hike all the way across the island to Joo Chiat where there’s a more enterprising lady, also Singaporean, who’s working till 6 pm tonight. Not as good as Havelock Road, but still better than the factory made ones in the frozen section of the supermarket, still handmade in Singapore, although not necessarily by Singaporean hands. Some of the Havelock Road workers appear to be Filipino, the ones at Joo Chiat seemed to be from China and Malaysia. And, the white flour probably comes from America or Australia.
C- Assemble in the following order:
Spread on flour wrapper
Sweet flour sauce, flour provenance unknown, sauce made and bottled in Malaysia
Ground raw red chilli’s from Malaysia
Ground raw garlic from China
1 or 2 fresh washed “local” lettuce leaves from Malaysia
1 tablespoon of filling in a rectangle on top of the lettuce leave
Then sprinklings of
Steamed crab-meat from Vietnamese crabs
Steamed shelled and sliced prawns off Chilean fishing vessels
Steamed and sliced Chinese sausages from Taiwan
Julienned Lebanese cucumber strips from Japan
Fresh bean sprouts from Singapore
Seaweed strips from Japan
Chopped peanuts from Malaysia
Crispy fried and chopped dried flat fish from China
Crispy fried garlic bits from Chinese garlic.
Roll up and enjoy!
D- Finally, the people
Secret #3 – A group filled with heart and care
This New Year’s Eve of the Water Snake, Feburary 9th 2013, my Vietnamese/Chinese/Singaporean family gathered around popiah again. This year, we had one of my brothers and his wife back from Leicester England and another from Hong Kong with his New Zealand partner. Then there were the rest of us regulars – my Viet husband, my American Vietnamese son, my Peranakan/Cantonese father, my Hakka mother, my aunts, uncles and cousins of various dialect groups. We’ll all be sitting around the table.
We ate our popiah, combined from two different recipes, it’s ingredients sourced from all around the world, hand cut with care and heart by me and my Filipino helper and braised for many hours till the flavours melted together into a delicious whole.
It was truly a Singapore experience.
Making popiah and building a truly Singaporean society are not so different. A combination of many traditions, with people and ideas sourced from all around the world, every one working with care and heart to create a meltingly delicious pot of flavours.
Happy New Year, Xin Nian Kuai Le, Chuc Mung Nam Moi.
May all you wish come true, Wan Shi Ru Yi, Moi Chuyen Thuan Loi