The New Lumpia
Lumpia Shanghai are the Pringles of the Filipino-American buffet table. No Filipino party would be complete without somebody's tita (auntie) having made hundreds of the pork-filled, deep fried mini spring rolls — so many that you eat without noticing, stabbing at the shallow bowl of sweet-sour dip, talking while you cram. Later, after you've stuffed yourself with egg-studded pancit, lechon (roast piglet) with leathery-crisp skin, and oxtail kare-kare, you reckon how many lumpia you've eaten by the dozens. And yet there always seems to be a foil pan heaped with lumpia leftovers in the kitchen, stacked between layers of paper towels, as if the sprawling, daylong party hardly damaged the gross tally, so everybody has to take some home.
Lumpia, in other words, are totemic.
No surprise, then, that lumpia Shanghai ($7) are pretty much the symbols of the new style of Filipino cooking William Pilz is hawking through the window of his Hapa SF food truck. These are lumpia redesigned for a generation that aspires to the Cal-cuisine minimalism of a Judy Rodgers at Zuni, say, yet moored firmly to Pinoy tradition. Pilz sources shoulder from naturally raised hogs; grinds and blends it with onion, garlic, carrot, water chestnuts, and Thai sweet chile sauce; and rolls up spoonfuls in Asian spring roll skins (not egg roll wrappers, which Pilz finds too coarse — he buys the ones his mom used). They're fried on the truck, to order, in rice-bran oil — it has a higher smoking point than other oils, meaning you can fry at a hotter temperature. "Lumpia needs to be fried really fast, really hard, and really hot," he says.
Are the skins too thin? A friend of mine from Manila thinks so. Other cooks resort to double-wrapping lumpia, but, Pilz says, even though Hapa's have edges that tend to scorch a bit, his aim overall with nuevo Filipino is to let the essential ingredients shine. That means lumpia with a very pointed delicacy, served with a sweet-and-sour dipping sauce that adapts to seasonal fruit, but often turns up with mango and fresh pineapple.
"It's like bouillabaisse," he says of lumpia. "Everybody has their own method." With apologies to titas everywhere, Hapa SF's method yields some of the best anywhere.
Hapa SF: Truck parks at various locations in S.F.; follow it on Twitter at @HapaSF.