While both lumpia and egg rolls consist of a savory filling enclosed in a doughy wrapper and fried until golden, fans of Chinese and Filipino cooking can easily tell them apart. With a lighter wrapping than traditional egg rolls, lumpia more closely resemble Chinese spring rolls, so named by English speakers from the Chinese tradition of making spring rolls for Chinese New Year, the first day of spring on the Chinese lunar calendar.
People in China have been eating egg rolls for centuries and brought the foods to American when they arrived in the mid 1800s. They also brought egg rolls to the Philippines where they came and went as traders for centuries. When the Spanish colonized the islands and stayed for almost 400 years, egg rolls morphed into lumpia, which are very similar to the flautas, or fried and rolled tacos of Spanish and Mexican cuisine.
Egg rolls and lumpia differ in the texture of their wrappers. Egg roll wrappers are typically thicker than lumpia wrappers. Thin spring roll wrappers or almost transparent rice paper wrappers are good substitutes for lumpia wrappers, while thicker won ton wrappers make a good substitute for egg roll wrappers. Fresh lumpia, and fresh spring rolls as well, means that the filling is enclosed in a lettuce leaf and contains cooked, as opposed to raw, ingredients.
While both egg rolls and lumpia have variations in their fillings, some specific types are more popular than others. Ground or minced pork is a favorite filling in both rolls, along with shredded vegetables such as carrots and green onions or bamboo shoots. Shrimp and chicken are also common. A traditional lumpia filling consists of hearts of palm, the inner part of the coconut palm tree, mixed with either diced shrimp or lobster.
Egg rolls and lumpia are usually deep fried, in oil heated to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, and cooked for 2 to 3 minutes until they are golden brown. You can also fry them in just a few inches of oil in a deep skillet and turn them once during cooking. Or, you can oven-fry the egg rolls and lumpia by spraying or brushing them with oil and baking them for 30 minutes at 425 F. Rotate the pans and turn the rolls or lumpia once during cooking so they brown evenly.
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