June 5, 2010

Eating Spring Rolls in Fuzhou

Spring Roll is a specialty snack or a part of a formal banquet in Fuzhou but many other dialects can also claim it as theirs. Perhaps it is now difficult to say who was the first to come up with the idea of having spring rolls in the ancient days.

A traditional legend claims that Spring Rolls have their origins in the annual Chinese New Year celebration, called the Spring Festival. The first spring rolls featured fresh vegetables from the spring harvest; meat was added later.

It is also said that the pastry appeared way back in the Eastern Jin Dynasty, when people would make thin cakes with flour and eat them with vegetables on the day of Beginning of Spring. The cakes were called “spring dish” at that time.

In the Tang and Song Dynasties, the cakes were all the rage. And the custom was even featured in the poems by the great poets Du Fu and Lu You.

In the Tang Dynasty, Spring Dish was also known as “the Five-Spice Dish”, because five hot and spicy ingredients like spring onion and garlic were added in the fillings.

Later, Spring Dishes and Five-Spice Dishes evolved into spring cakes. In the Ming and Qing Dynasties, there was a custom of “biting spring”, which means welcoming spring by eating spring cakes. The practice was believed to ward off disaster and evil. Along with ever improving cooking skills, spring cakes evolved into spring rolls, which were smaller in size. Spring rolls were included in imperial court snacks.

Today, spring rolls are a popular treat during Chinese New Year celebrations. Their gold color symbolizes wealth and prosperity for the coming year. In my opinion this would be non-Foochow as the Foochows would always eat their spring roll fresh and not fried.

In Sibu on the other hand spring rolls are eaten during the Chinese New Year and the other small festivals.  This brings to mind that we had one specialist  who used to make the thin pan cakes or spring roll "skin" near the now demolished central market in High Street for many decades - specifically at the corner of the shop called Tai Sing. We would queue up to buy the pan cakes/spring roll skin and take home to roll up our Spring Rolls with home made fillings. What he made was really excellent - stretchable like lycra without holes and would not tear at all and very tender to the bite. They also did not dry up like the Vietnamese rice paper. He has passed on and an institution also disappears with him.

By the way I would not mind waiting in the long queue because I could watch his magic hands placing a ball of dough on his hot flat pan (not oiled) and leave behind a thin pastry. When just right he would lift the "skin" up gently. He could pile  up a mountain of the skins in minutes. He would sit there and make hundreds on the festival day. What did he do after that day? I have never found out. I was too young then to realise that I should ask him to be my sifu.....

Stir fried bean sprouts for the spring rolls - this was our introduction to Spring Rolls in Fuzhou City. The dishes came out and we enjoyed rolling up the spring rolls ourselves. This was indeed very interactive and broke the ice amongst the diners. We should practise this in Sibu in particular  and in other parts of Sarawak.

Chives fried with a bit of minced meat for the spring roll

Meat floss - one of the three fillings for the spring roll. This was something new to me. Meat Floss is a popular tourist souvenir to buy  and a good present for meeting new friends in Fuzhou City. It comes in beautiful and high tech packings.

I do think that whenever one eats spring rolls with a nice group of friends one would always feel cheerful and satisfied because so many ingredients go into one roll! You can also improve your skill in making dainty spring rolls too.

In Fuzhou city each restaurant or even side walk stalls would have their own special fillings and pancakes...So you can eat to your heart's content when you try different kinds of spring rolls.

Spring rolls (fried or fresh) I am afraid is no longer offered in any of the Sibu restaurant menu as a single dish.

You can buy the fried ones (with carrots and some minced meat or pounded dried prawns maybe) in the Night Market in Sibu. But those are definitely not what I remember as Foochow Spring Rolls my grandmother used to make!!

So it is time to revive the art of making the original spring roll!!


Ann said...



You were the lucky ones to queue up to buy the spring roll wrapper. Me and my siblings were the less fortunate ones salivating at you rich kids.

For me, and my siblings, it was always every Sunday, after Church, Mum and Dad always parked at the back of the shops facing the bus station. My mum's sis owned one of the shops which later she made into a coffee shop.

I think just by watching him roll that ball of dough I can make it. LOL

Any way among the queue, there was a particular customer who would buy a whole stack of wrappers. The wrapper man still slowly makes his wrapper, oblivious to the long queue, and his wife patiently waiting for his wrappers.

We always wonder why he doesn't teach his wife. My Ah Kung said," Soh (silly) man, when he dies, he takes his trade with him.)

Read your email.

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Hi Ann

I have always wanted to know more about this man. Was he Cantonese? Was he Foochow? (Mind you at that time in my childhood I just thought that every spoke Foochow)...how I wish there is a photo of him or someone should know his whereabouts...That soh jai I suppose never taught his wife....rather MCp? eh? Nowadays it is the practice for man to start his business and then pass it to his wife..and he goes to play golf...wife tied down to business cannot follow himmmmmmm. that's a good story line...hahahahah

Sarawakiana@2 said...


didn't get your email...streamyx is not working well. send to gmail.

Ann said...

I think he was Hokkien because the Hokkiens make Popiah. I don't think he was Cantonese.

Was it his wife was too SOH and can't learn? LOL

Email me your gmail. When you read it , you will LOL or was it that the skies told me I should be writing it. LOL

Sarawakiana@2 said...


That's interesting because he spoke Foochow.....sent my gmail to you already.

Ann said...

In Sibu, you want to do business, you must speak Foochow. Just like when I first arrived in Auckland, I wanted to stay with Sibu people, I had to speak Foochow.

Ann said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann said...

Did not get your gmail, your yahoo still work?

Sarawakiana@2 said...

Ann...Tried again...may be I got your yahoo.com wrong?

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