Looking back, I don’t have a ton of memories of when my mom and stepdad got married just over 25 years ago, but some things stand out more than the rest.
The ceremony was on a Friday in our living room, I was 9 years old and thrilled to be the maid of honor. My mom wore a royal blue suit with a white blouse, and the 9 of us; me, my two brothers, 3 soon-to-be stepbrothers, the Justice of the Peace, and the bride and groom barely fit in the room.
The next day, Saturday (and my birthday!) we all headed to the reception hosted at the community center at my new aunt’s apartment complex to dance and celebrate all night long. We hung those crepe paper wedding bells from the ceiling, and for weeks we had spent hours recording music off the radio to cassette tapes to serve as a DJ. My cousin locked my brother out of the bathroom. My grandmother feared a fish allergy. Everyone was invited.
But mostly, I vividly remember the food.
Weeks before, concerned about costs, my mom was searching for ways to feed lots of people without spending too much money. Her good friend and co-worker Tess came to her rescue.
Tess knew just the food, and shared her family recipe for Filipino style Shanghai Lumpias. My mom took notes on lined binder paper, even drawing out the steps on how to roll a lumpia, and a family tradition began.
We made around 300 lumpias for my parents’ wedding, and probably over 3,000 in the 25 years since. It’s a family affair, with the entire family pitching in; separating wrappers, grating carrots, chopping onions, rolling the lumpias, and of course, taste testing. Hard to get people to stop taste testing, really.
Timmy rolls his lumpias short and thick. Sahara makes them long and skinny. My sister Olympia will steal the meat filling if you’re not paying attention, and sometimes even when you are. My dad’s barely stay together and sometimes have holes in them. Over the years, new boyfriends and girlfriends are brought to the table to help almost as a test, and eventually, a right of passage.
Finally the rolls are fried up, and disappear nearly as quickly as they are made. It was almost impossible to get a picture of a platter of lumpias, because my family has never been required to wait long enough for the platter to fill up. Some words may have…ehem…been exchanged (sorry Roly Poly).
We now make lumpias for all manner of occasion; graduations, holidays, birthdays, kids coming home from university, sports events, BBQs, Sunday nights, and as in this case, going away parties. We’ll often freeze a couple to save for later, to pull out on a lazy Wednesday, or a stressful Monday. They bring comfort, taste like heaven, and feel like home.
And that’s the story of how a blended black, Mexican, white family came to make a family tradition of making and eating lumpias.
Tess’ Shanghai Lumpias
recipe received with loving gratitude from Teresita Cabello, may she rest in peace
- 1 pkg Filipino Lumpia Wrappers
- 1 lb Ground Pork
- 1 tbsp Garlic, minced
- 1 c Cabbage, shredded
- ½ c Carrots, shredded
- 1 small can Water Chestnuts, diced
- 4 Green Onions, diced
- ¼ Oyster Sauce, to taste
- 2 tbsp Soy Sauce, to taste
- Salt & Pepper to taste
- 1 Egg White
- 1 tbsp Corn Starch
- Frying oil
- Fry the pork in a large frying pan over medium-low heat until meat is uniformly brown. Remove from heat. Drain fat. Stir in minced garlic. Lightly salt the pork.
- Meanwhile chop, shred and prepare the vegetables. Combine in a very large mixing bowl.
- Meanwhile, begin separating the lumpia wrappers. It helps to keep a damp paper towel at the bottom and top of the stacks to prevent the wrappers from drying out.
- Once the meat has cooled, add to the large mixing bowl with the veggies and toss.
- Start adding the Oyster and Soy sauces, mixing, then tasting after each addition. Continue to adjust the amounts until the flavors are balanced. If necessary, add salt and pepper to taste. The mixture should be nicely juicy and coated.
- In a small bowl, whisk the egg white with the corn starch until frothy.
- Assembly: To roll the wrappers, position the wrapper so that it is a diamond in front of you (not a square), and add a large spoonful of filling to the bottom corner of the wrapper. Fold the bottom corner up, roll halfway up towards the top corner. Fold the side corners in, and then roll to the top. To seal, slightly dampen the top corner of the wrapper with a small dab of the egg whit mixture. Press gently the corner to the roll gently to seal. Or follow my mom’s drawing. Or follow the instructions on the lumpia package.
- Meanwhile, begin heating your oil in a deep frying pan over medium heat. Do not add lumpias to cool/warm oil. Begin adding lumpias to the pan, they should be about 1/3 – 1/2deep in oil. Add 3 – 6 lumpias to the pan at a time, but do not crowd the pan. Allow the lumpias to brown on one side, and then turn (about 2 – 5 minutes depending on the heat). Once fully browned, remove from heat and place on a brown paper bag to drain.
- In documenting this recipe, we realized that in the original recipe my mom wrote down celery, though we have never used it to our recollection. We did try adding celery this time, and it was fine, but we didn’t prefer it. We have always used shredded cabbage, which isn’t listed here. We spent some time trying to remember what Tess had taught my mom, decided it must have been a transcription error, even though she wrote it twice. In the end it doesn’t matter because we’ll just do it our way.
- The written recipe also calls for Egg Roll Wrappers, which we suspect my mom approximated. We have been loyal to the Menlo brand wrappers for as long as I can remember
- To increase the volume, we generally find that 1 pound of pork = 1 package of wrappers. Also, all measurements are guidelines at this point, and everything in this recipe is to taste, especially the sauces. We just keep adding things until the general mix of veggies and meat has a balance of color and flavor. We have also never made less than 3 packages of wrappers at a time, and have made as much as six.
- You may freeze uncooked lumpias for up to six months. Do not defrost before frying.