My Family Recipe

Mastering These Spring Rolls Was My Filipino Rite of Passage

How I learned my mother's recipe and passed it down.

May 14, 2019
Photo by Rocky Luten. Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog. Prop Stylist: Amanda Widis.

Good food is worth a thousand words—sometimes more. In My Family Recipe, a writer shares the story of a single dish that's meaningful to them and their loved ones. This week, in honor of Asian Pacific American Heritage Month, food stylist and recipe developer Amelia Rampe remembers her favorite Filipino dish, lumpia.


One of the first jobs my mom assigned me in the kitchen was separating lumpia spring roll wrappers. She’d hand me a stack and, one by one, I’d peel back the layers, careful not to rip them (but secretly hoping I would so I could nibble on the unusable ones).

While I was busy with my job, my mom would make the meat mixture for the filling: a large bowl of ground beef and pork and finely chopped vegetables, soy sauce, black pepper, and an egg. She’d mix it all with her hands, never with a spoon. I remember smelling the raw mixture, wafts of garlic and onion, and getting excited for what was to come.

And then, the rolling: That always took the longest. Chances are, if my mom was making lumpia, she had some back-up aunties ready to help. They’d all sit around the bowl, chattering away, and I’d hover nearby to keep them in stock of the separated wrappers. I couldn’t understand every word they said, but still managed to follow the conversation and laugh along at their jokes. With ease and precision they’d make quick work of what seemed like hundreds of lumpia. I wasn’t allowed to roll them myself because I always broke the wrappers or rolled them too loose.

When it came time to fry the lumpia, my mother and aunties would shoo us kids away. They feared the oil splatter, of course, but it was as if, as well, we just hadn’t earned the right yet to be there for that final transformation. It was a sight to behold: The white wrapper would sizzle to a crisp, deep golden brown. I still remember the day I graduated from wrapper-separator to filling-maker. But when I was finally old enough to be in charge of the frying, that’s when I knew I had become one of the aunties.

At parties, lumpia was always the first thing to go. I’m sure I was partly to blame because I’d sneak to the platter every chance and restock my plate. I never wanted to wait for them to cool down and would burn my mouth every time. But it was worth it.

I still remember the day I graduated from wrapper-separator to filling-maker. But when I was finally old enough to be in charge of the frying, that’s when I knew I had become one of the aunties.

The magic of lumpia is that every hand makes it differently. My mom and grandma make totally different styles of lumpia. My mom’s were long, thin, and crisp and my grandma’s were shorter, fatter, and never quite as crisp as Mom's. Grandma always wrapped them the night before, which made them lose their crispy texture. My step-mom makes a completely different lumpia than both of them. Where my mom rolls the meat and vegetables while it’s raw, my step-mom cooks the meat and vegetables first and then rolls them and fries again.

All versions of lumpia are delicious, but my mom’s version reigns supreme in my heart.


A while back I taught a Filipino cooking class. To my surprise it was filled with mostly young Filipino women who never learned how to cook their motherland favorites. It was fun to hear that even though we were all raised differently (myself in America, they in the Philippines), there were still some major similarities between us. They, too, recalled separating wrappers and being shooed out of the kitchen “because of the oil splatter.”

The fact that these women were taking a class to learn how to cook their mother’s dishes was the most telling of our shared culture. It’s such a Filipino thing for a mother to never quite pass down a recipe—because the way they measure everything is “a pinch of this” and “a thing of that.” We were all raised around cooking, but never to cook these dishes ourselves. Nothing is written down and everything is documented by memory. The thing about memory is that you can’t quite pin it down on paper—but you can certainly try.

I wrote this lumpia recipe based off of my mom’s. I spent days on it, testing it over and over until it tasted just how I remembered it. I shared it with my class and now I’m sharing it with you.

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3 Comments

Pat T. May 22, 2019
My lumpia (the Indonesian kind) still pales in comparison to my mom’s. Thank you for sharing!
 
I’ve tried to make my mom’s pancit so many times, and it never, ever tastes as good. I haven’t even attempted to make her version of lumpia. I’m so excited to try this recipe with actual measurements!!!
 
Eric K. May 15, 2019
I could swim in that dipping sauce, Amelia.