IT COULD be “lumpiang sariwa,” “lumpiang prito,” “lumpiang shanghai” and my favorite (everybody’s favorite)…“lumpia ubod de Silay.” In the Philippines, “lumpia” appears in myriad of forms. It is our fiesta food our heritage food.
I thought that “lumpiang shanghai” originates from China (just like french fries) but my good friend, Beng Ong Tan, told me that there is no such food as “lumpiang shanghai” in Shanghai (just like french fries… not from France). My mentor, the late Prof. Doreen Gamboa-Fernandez, made me aware that Chinese food has transformed and become indigenized thus influencing our way of cooking.
The Chinese food that we know have evolved into something very Filipino. China and the Philippines have been in close contact (since then) through trade and commerce even before we knew the white men who pretended to be our conquerors. Our two-way intercultural exchange has enriched both cultures but the strong influence is on food. In all Philippine fiestas, we always have food of Chinese origin.
Silay is famous as “banwa sang dulce.” It is the place of our hometown delicacies. That could be the reason why our “Kaon Ta Festival” is always a hit. Why do I pick on “lumpia”? For the Chinese, eating “lumpia” is both a ritual and a gastronomic exercise. “Lumpia” comes from the Hokkien term “lun bnia.” The Hokkien spring roll, “E-meng or Xiamen lumpia” is really notable.
“Lumpia ubod” started as a poor man’s food. The Tsinoys from Iloilo (the buena familias) brought with them their heirloom recipes when they started converting our swampy lands into profitable haciendas in 1860. “Lumpia ubod” came handy and was easy to prepare. Coconut palms growing abundantly could just be cut anytime to obtain the “ubod.”
The soup (chicken or pork stock) could be prepared ahead. The meat is cut into strips while the fresh ubod are sliced thinly. The manner of cooking has varied steps to reach the desired taste. Nora, Zenda, Carol and some other ladies have their own techniques that they don’t want to reveal. It is their cooking secret. Some add crushed peanuts, crushed seaweeds, fried crispy rice noodles, boiled egg, pork chicharon, and crushed garlic.
Special wrappers (not the commercial) are made of ground rice mixed with eggs. Again, this is another secret recipe. After the cooked meat, “ubod” and other ingredients are piled on top of the leaves (lettuce on other vegetables in season), fresh condiments are sprinkled, the whole of it is rolled up and ready to be munched. The leftovers can be made into “lumpia prito.” You can add more ingredients to come out with another heavenly taste.
“Lumpia” is a symbol of masculinity. Wives in the kitchen are always reminded of their husbands. The rolls are made according to what come to the imagination. It is also the symbol of sensuality because eating pleasure is a bodily pleasure. The garlic and other herbs are romantically linked to being sensual.
As a poor man’s food, it could be prepared by anybody. It has been provided a distinct class because in “decada 40 and 50” some Silay “hacenderos” and “hacendados” used to stay in gambling tables for longer hours. They did not go home to eat. The “manuglibod” (snack sellers) with their “kalalaw” loaded with delicacies hopped from one gambling table to next to sell their products.
The gambler’s favorite was “lumpia ubod.” Those who won in gambling purchased all the delicacies and shared them to their friends who were there. “Lumpia ubod” is not just a delicacy for the “buena familias” To date, it finds its way to the delicacy barter trade at Silay public market alongside with piaya, baye-baye, puto-lanson, inday-inday, ibos-mais, turon pilit, ukoy, salab, kalamay hati, butong-butong, and more.
Those who come to Silay for “lumpia ubod” can find their way to the kitchen of Nora Lacson, El Ideal Bakery, Zenda Belleza, or the delicacy barter trade at the market (6 a.m. to 8 a.m.) A food trip to Silay will lead you to discover our heritage food. Each gustatory delight has a story to tell love, politics, business, gambling, religion, and sex.
“Lumpia ubod” reminds you of coconut, “the tree of life;” the “jornaleros” and “hacendados” who pioneered the “hacienda”system; the women who offered us their kitchen skill; the “manuglibod” who are our ambassadors of culinary arts; the tourists who patronize our products; and the people who simply love to buy and eat.