Singapore hawker dishes: Popiah
Roll em up.
What we say:
Vietnam may be better known for fresh summer rolls, but at Singapore hawker centres you’ll find a comparable creation called popiah. Not only do popiah make a healthy snack, they’re a bargain at around S$1.50 per roll.
As you may have guessed from its similarity to a spring roll, popiah is a hawker dish of Chinese heritage. In the Teowchew and Hokkien dialects which are spoken in Singapore, popiah (pronounced po-pee-ah) means “thin wafer” — a reference to the wheat flour skin that is used to neatly wrap up the yummy filling.
Traditionally the filling is a mix of stewed turnip, jicama, bean sprouts and peanuts to give it some crunch, but since each hawker has their own recipe you may also find pieces of fried tofu, egg, Chinese sausage and even shrimp in your popiah. Sweet soy sauce and chillies are spread inside the popiah skin before wrapping it up, so there’s no need to dip the popiah in sauce.
Popiah are made fresh to order so they don’t get soggy, so be prepared to wait a few minutes for your order. The popiah will be cut into bite-sized pieces and is eaten with chopsticks, making it an ideal food for sharing. Popiah is more of a snack than a main meal, and the multi-texture, multi-flavour rolls pair nicely with a cold bottle of Tiger Beer. Plus, since they’re not fried, popiah are one of the healthier Singapore hawker dishes — a sort of antithesis to char kway teow.
If you want to learn more about popiah, head to Kway Guan Huat in East Singapore. Popiah is the family business here and they’ve been rolling them since 1938. Every morning from 8:30 till 11:00 you can watch them making the day’s batch of popiah wrappers, then feast on fresh popiah for lunch.
Alternatively, the following popiah stalls are highly recommended:
Old Long House Popiah: Stall #01-03 Toa Payoh Food Centre, 06:00–15:00
Fortune Food: Stall #02-004 Chinatown Complex Food Centre, 10:00–21:00
Qiji: Bugis Village, 160 Rochor Road, 09:30–22:00