Beginner's Guide to Making Filipino Lumpia
A pro teaches us how to make her crispy, golden brown, irresistible lumpia, with memories of them as celebration and rite of passage
Article and recipe by Jenn de la Vega. Photographs by Luke Atwood Abiol
You’re not meant to make and eat lumpia alone. They’re ever-present at Filipino celebrations. Birthday? Yes. Graduation? Totally. Wedding? You bet, or I’m not going. Lumpia are a family of spring rolls from The Philippines that are often confused with egg rolls, but have a considerably thinner wrapper and different flavor profiles. Egg roll wrappers contain egg, which makes their outer shell much thicker and bubbly upon frying. Imagine instead biting into the Shanghai style of lumpia — flinty, deep-fried crepes filled with a soft baton of savory ground pork, studded with garlic and black pepper.
My Filipino-American family hosted a lot of events at our house growing up. Not just parties, but religious gatherings and Filipino community association meetings always ended with a big buffet. I remember long tables filled to the brim with chafing dishes and every new guest bringing something to add, even if we told them not to bring anything.
When I mention lumpia, my friends ask, “Where will it be? What time should I come over? Which kind?” Those who meet my family for the first time are sheepish about eating too many, but my family only encourages them to fill up their plates. We say, “Kain na, kain na,” which means, “Eat now, eat now.” A few relatives joke that they need a “base layer” of appetizer lumpia before addressing the whole roasted lechon (pig) on the table.
In most cases, lumpia play the role of a comforting, crunchy, dippable and portable snack you eat while walking around and catching up with people at a party. For me, I tend to linger around the foil tray like you would at a cheese board. Looking at old photos of my first birthday, I’m wearing a party hat in my grandpa’s lap and holding cigar-sized lumpia in my tiny fingers.
In Filipino culture, making lumpia is a true labor of love, not to be taken lightly or made quickly — but then it’s not uncommon for us to make 500 at a time! Learning how to roll them is a rite of passage that requires patience. As a pre-teen, I was invited to the lumpia rolling table and listened in on the tsismis, or gossip. I don’t understand Tagalog, the Philippine national language, but being there made me feel more like an adult. I got lost in the exactitude of rolling the lumpia into uniform shapes. My first ones were lumpy and broke during frying, but over time, they got smoother and stayed closed. As a chef now, I look back impressed at Mom and Grandma’s consistency without the help of a kitchen scale.
During the pandemic, I found the repetition of making lumpia meditative. Scoop, wrap, roll, seal. While I wasn’t chit-chatting with relatives, I rolled for the future, that I might fry lumpia for guests when I could have them over for dinner again.
Now that cities are opening up again, why not gather a couple of people you’re close to and make a small batch of lumpia together? Come on, I’ll show you how to create beef and vegetable lumpia inspired by my mom’s favorite recipe, with her tips for success. Don’t be intimidated! If you can make a stir-fry, you can make lumpia. Not only will you make a bunch of tasty treats, you’ll have a lot of fun in the process.
Jump ahead to:
Types of lumpia
I believe lumpia fall into three distinct categories: Shanghai, prito, and sariwa.
The most recognizable lumpia Shanghai are skinny, open-ended cigarillos or stubby tubes as short as your thumb. They are filled with ground proteins like pork and/or shrimp with aromatics, all bound together with egg. Due to the raw filling, they tend to take longer to deep-fry.
My beef recipe is considered lumpia prito, which are bigger, cigar-like, and completely sealed. I love this style because it’s so flexible and can even repurpose leftovers like pancit noodles. These fillings are stir-fried, drained, and cooled before filling. Unique to this class is turon, dessert lumpia. Stuffed with saba bananas and jackfruit, they are deep fried and lacquered with a crackling brown sugar glaze. Modern versions I’ve seen include bits of mochi, ube halaya (sweet purple yam spread), and mango!
In sharp contrast, lumpia sariwa are made with fresh breakfast crepes stuffed with a large ruffle of leaf lettuce and fresh julienned vegetables. When served, they’re crowned with brown garlic gravy. You’d attack this style with a fork versus picking it up.
Ingredients for Beef and Vegetable Lumpia
My lumpia recipe is a party in a neat, fried package. Sauteed ground beef is enveloped with confetti-colored veggies, including carrot, snap peas, jicama, and cabbage. Here’s what you need to do:
1. Get the right wrappers
The most important component is getting the right spring roll crepe wrappers, aka Filipino spring roll wrappers. Go to the freezer case at a specialty Asian market and ensure that you’re grabbing paper-thin wrappers by looking at the ingredient list. It should include only flour, water, salt, and maybe some preservatives. If it contains egg, it’s an egg roll wrapper and too thick for lumpia. Avoid any packages with freezer burn, or ones that look dry or cracked. Lumpia wrappers are also not to be confused with Vietnamese rice paper, which are dry and glassy looking. My mom swears by Orientex, but if you cannot find them in the freezer section of your specialty Asian store, Menlo and Wei-Chuan brands work just as well.
2. Choose the right filling ingredients
For this recipe I went with a combination of ground beef and vegetables, which is the version my mom made as I was growing up.
• Ground beef. Any type of ground beef works here, but I prefer higher fat percentage for more flavor. If beef isn’t your thing, substitute ground pork.
• Vegetables. When working with gulay (vegetables) my mom prefers jicama for its crunch. If you can’t find any at your store, canned hearts of palm and water chestnut are viable substitutes. Green beans are common filler, but I opted for sweet sugar snap peas or snow peas, if you can source them.
• Make it vegan. If you want to make the recipe vegan, omit the meat and fish sauce and substitute julienned hearty vegetables like carrot, green bean, onion, bean sprout, or peas. You can get creative and colorful but avoid watery produce like potatoes and lettuce.
3. What sauce goes with Filipino lumpia?
While you’re at the store, decide on the dipping sauce or sauces that you’ll serve with your lumpia so you can pick up any special ingredients. Savor your hard work with one or more of these recommendations.
My favorite is sawsawan, an infused vinegar that evolves over time when you make it from scratch. It’s packed with garlic, pepper, and Thai chilis. The longer it sits, the more flavorful it gets. Against the oily bite, it balances with a sting and tang close to North Carolina bbq sauce. Try out this recipe from Ang Sarap, which gets its heat from Scotch bonnet chilies. Or make a simplified version, included in my lumpia recipe, with palm vinegar (or rice vinegar if you don’t have it), one or two cloves garlic, chili, and cracked pepper.
Sweet chili sauce is easy to find online or in the Asian aisle of the grocery store, but you can also make your own. (My mom makes her own sweet and sour sauce by mixing ketchup with apple cider vinegar, brown sugar, and red chili flakes. For a blast of umami, try adding oyster sauce, fish sauce, or toyomansi, which is a mix of soy sauce and calamansi juice, a native citrus to The Philippines.)
For the kids, try banana ketchup, which you can either make yourself or buy at an Asian grocery stores or online. It’s exactly what it sounds like! It was developed by Maria Y. Orosa during World War II when tomatoes were scarce but bananas were overly abundant. It follows the same recipe as tomato ketchup with sugar, vinegar, and spices.
How to make Filipino lumpia
Traditional Filipino lumpia is made in large batches, sometimes up to 500! It’s an all-day affair and a great way to bond with your folks. My grandma always seemingly had them on hand and could fry them up on a lark. Here, I’m going to walk you through how to make a very manageable-sized recipe that takes less than three hours and makes 25 pieces.
1. Defrost the wrappers
Unwrap and defrost lumpia wrappers on a plate with a damp towel over them. They tend to dry out quickly and develop cracks if you don’t pay attention.
2. Stir-fry the filling
Lumpia are easier to roll if the vegetables are pliable, which is why they are stir-fried for this style. You should cook them long enough on medium-high heat so that they soften and lose some moisture. If you’re frying them too low, they’ll get mushy. Do not skip the draining step (though don’t press moisture out of the filling) — you want to get rid of excess moisture to keep the lumpia from exploding during frying but keep flavors in there. The filling must also be completely cool before wrapping or the lumpia will fall apart. To speed up cooling, you can spread out the drained filling on a sheet pan and put it in the fridge.
3. How to wrap and roll lumpia
When it comes to wrapping it all up, if you have a kitchen scale handy, weigh your filling and divide it by how many wrappers you have (typically 25 to a pack). If you don’t have a scale, use a small ice cream scoop. This will help you measure the right amount of filling and keep the sizes consistent. Have a bowl of egg wash (beaten egg) with a brush nearby, ready to seal.
Work with one lumpia at a time and keep the wrappers under a damp paper towel or kitchen towel so they don’t dry out and crack. The towel shouldn’t be too wet, or you risk tearing the wrappers or bubbling their teture. As you work, tuck the filling in snugly and wrap as tight as you can without tearing.
4. How to fry or freeze lumpia
Once you’ve got your lumpia made, you can deep-fry and serve them, or freeze them to cook and serve later. For deep frying, make sure you have all the tools you need: a pot, vegetable oil such as canola oil, tongs, and platters with paper towels to drain them. Heat the oil to 350°F using a deep-frying thermometer and fry about 4 lumpia at a time until golden brown, turning them once, about 6 minutes total.
To freeze, arrange the filled (not fried) lumpia in a single layer on a baking sheet and freeze until solid. Then move them to plastic zip-top bags for up to 6 months. Having frozen lumpia is so helpful because you can easily transport them to fry at someone’s house.
5. How to take lumpia to a party
If you’d like to bring fried lumpia to a party, there are few key things to remember. Fry them at the last possible moment so they stay hot. Place them in a single layer and cover with foil. Quickly poke holes in the foil to create a vent. If you don’t, you’ll steam the precious packages and they’ll be what my mom calls “wimpy.”
Filipino lumpia recipe
For sure, it’s a project to make lumpia, but you’re going to be so happy with the crunchy, juicy results!
Explore more heritage recipes
Do you have a family recipe? If you don’t yet, what would you put in it? We would love to hear about it. Tag @yummly and @randwiches on social media to share your cooking photos. In the meantime, enjoy these additional articles about family food traditions.