Singapore Infopedia


Popiah (also spelled poh piah), meaning “thin pancake” in Teochew, is a thin paper-like crepe or pancake wrapper stuffed with a filling made of cooked vegetables and meat.1 When deep fried, the crispy roll is more commonly known as a spring roll, but if the wrapper is as is, it is known as popiah.

Popiah is of southeastern Chinese origins, with its roots in Fujian Province in China. It was derived from the spring roll, which was eaten during spring when there was an abundance of vegetables.The Chinese diaspora has since spawned variants of the roll throughout Asia, incorporating ingredients from various local cultures. One example is the Nonya version of popiah.4

The fresh white wrapper or skin of the popiah is usually made of wheat flour mixed with water and a dash of salt for taste. Homemade egg-roll wrappers, which have egg added to the traditional dough, is considered to be a richer, tastier skin. The slightly elastic dough is separated into small balls, dropped onto a hot skillet, then quickly lifted off leaving only a thin layer on the pan.5 Left to cook for a short while, the skin is then lifted off skilfully without breaking.

The various ingredients of popiah filling are usually placed in small dishes for diners to mix and add according to their preferences.7 The filling can contain as many as 10 types of ingredients, broadly divided into the main meat-and-vegetable filling, garnishing, as well as spices and sauces.8 The main filling is made of fine strips of bamboo shoot cooked with shrimp, sautéed garlic, and pork cooked in the broth of shrimp and pork. To prepare the popiah, a thin layer of sweet sauce and chilli paste is first spread onto the laid out skin. Bits of fried garlic are added for zest. A salad leaf placed on the skin serves as a base to hold the filling.9 A scoop of the meat-and-vegetable mixture is squeezed using ladles to get rid of as much liquid as possible, before being added onto the salad leaf.10 The mixture is then topped with thinly sliced garnishing such as beansprouts, omelette, cucumber, shrimp, coriander and Chinese sausages.11 The popiah is then folded neatly into a roll and sliced into bite-sized pieces.12 

Popiah in Singapore
Popiah is usually eaten as a snack or an accompaniment to the main meal.13 It is sold in most hawker centres, and “do-it-yourself” “popiah parties” are quite popular. At these parties, guests are at liberty to assemble their own popiah with the skin and fillings that have been prepared.14 Freshly made skin is usually preferred over frozen ones. Nevertheless, frozen popiah skins, which come in packets of varying quantities and are sold at various supermarkets, have become popular as well.15

Home-grown company, Tee Yih Jia, is one of the largest popiah skin producers in the world. In early 2016, it became the first in the world to produce frozen hargow crystal skin, the skin for Chinese shrimp dumplings.16 Tee Yih Jia is headed by Goi Seng Hui, also known as the “Popiah King”.17 In 2013, Goi received the Businessman of the Year award at The Business Times’ annual Singapore Business Awards dinner.18

In June 2002, Thomson Community Club entered the Guinness World Records for the world’s longest popiah stretching across 108 m. More than 500 grassroots leaders and residents participated in this record-breaking feat.19

Variant names
Singapore/Malaysia: Popiah
Burmese: Kai-yan.20
Philippines/Indonesia: Lumpia, a fried version. 
Cantonese: Chun quin meaning “spring roll”.
Hokkien: Lun pia meaning “elastic pancake”.21

Suchitthra Vasu

1. Margaret Chan, Margaret Chan’s Foodstops (Singapore: Landmark Books, 1992), 117 (Call no. RSING 647.955957 CHA); Rosalind Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialties: A Culinary Journey (Konemann: Culinaria, 1999), 38. (Call no. RSING 641.5959 SOU)
2. Rosemary Brissenden, South East Asian Food: Classic and Modern Dishes from Indonesia, Malaysia, Singapore, Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, and Vietnam (Australia: Hardie Grant Books, 2011), 265. (Call no. RSING 641.5959 BRI)
3. Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialties, 38.
4. Charmaine Solomon, Deborah Solomon and Nina Harris, The Complete Asian Cookbook (South Yarra: Hardie Grant Books, 2016), 256 (Call no. RSEA 641.595 SOL); Brissenden, South East Asian Food, 265.
5. Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialties, 38.
6. Brissenden, South East Asian Food, 266.
7. Wendy Hutton, Singapore Food (Singapore: Times Books International, 1989), 176. (Call no. RSING 641.595957 HUT)
8. Brissenden, South East Asian Food, 265; Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialties, 38; Solomon, Solomon and Harris, Complete Asian Cookbook, 256.
9. Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialties, 38.
10. Solomon, Solomon and Harris, Complete Asian Cookbook, 256.
11. Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialties, 38.
12. Hutton, Singapore Food, 176.
13. Tee Hun Ching, “Popiah Is on a Roll,” Straits Times, 8 July 2001, 8. (From NewspaperSG)
14. Hutton, Singapore Food, 176.
15. Mowe, ed., Southeast Asian Specialties, 38.
16. “Tee Yih Jia on a Roll,” Business Times, 20 July 2016, 10. (From NewspaperSG)
17. “Popiah Maker Rolls Out Expansion Plans,” Straits Times, 24 March 1997, 36; “Popiah King Buys More QAF Shares,” Business Times, 13 September 2003, 5. (From NewspaperSG)
18. Mindy Tan, “Thinking Out of the Box,” Business Times, 20 July 2016, 1. (From NewspaperSG)
19. “Longest Popiah Enters Guinness World Records,” Today, 13 June 2003, 66. (From NewspaperSG)
20. Solomon, Solomon and Harris, Complete Asian Cookbook, 256.
21. Chan, Margaret Chan’s Foodstops, 117.

The information in this article is valid as at 2018 and correct as far as we are able to ascertain from our sources. It is not intended to be an exhaustive or complete history of the subject. Please contact the Library for further reading materials on the topic.


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