The Mexicans have their Burritos. In Singapore, we have Popiah!
What makes a good Popiah? Well, just dissect this Singaporean Burrito in half (or many slices) and it’s apparent that the fillings of a Popiah makes up nearly 97% of the whole dish. From the crunchy bean sprouts to the soft turnips, it’s clear that the filling is one of the main factors that contribute to a good Popiah. But let us not discount the importance of the ‘skin’ of the Popiah; the often belittled yet critical 3%.
When we sink our teeth into a Popiah, we first make contact with the Popiah skin. I’ve had too many Popiahs with its skin so dry that even the fillings cannot salvage the whole roll. And to be honest, i’ve always thought that Popiah skins are made by first baking a large sheet of skin and making round cut-outs thereafter. I could be right, if we’re talking about the factory made skins!
But my experience at Kway Guan Huat gave me an epiphany that resulted in a deeper appreciation of this often underrated Popiah skin. Who would have thought that each Popiah skin is made by hand! Each Popiah skin is made from smearing a blob of viscous dough on a hot iron plate, left for slightly more than a minute, and then peeled off the hot surface like a plaster. The result- a thin translucent Popiah skin that resembles an intricately laced doily!
The nonchalant Uncle at the shop is an artisan in the craft of Popiah skin making. He constantly wobbles the viscous dough in his hand to prevent it from slipping between the gaps of his fingers, and in a swift motion, dabs the dough on the hot plate and swipes it off before the whole dough sticks onto it. As painstaking as this whole process is, is the result better than a factory made one? Well, i happened to meet a chef at the shop that day who commented that the Popiah skins at Kway Guan Huat are top notch, and can be used to wrap anything and still taste good. As a chef, each raw ingredient, no matter how small the portion used, influences how the whole dish tastes. He said that it’s important to know how the raw ingredients taste, before you can be sure of what’s lacking in a dish, “and you’ll never know what’s bad until you’ve tasted what’s sublime”.
The filling of the Popiah at Kway Guan Huat didn’t really stand out. It was a lucid warm, as though it was heated and left aside for too long before serving. But the Popiah skin was great; so thin that it’s translucent but still chewy. Indeed, after tasting freshly made Popiah skins, i can at least have a basis of comparison when i find my next Popiah stall!
Popiah skin making is a fast dying trade, and if you have the time, i think it’s worth the effort to search for this quaint little shop to sample Popiah that’s made from the freshest ingredients in town.
Address: 95 Joo Chiat Road
Opening Hours: 8:30am to 8pm, closed on Mon
- Poh Piah – 1 roll for $2