Egg rolls and lumpia appear on menus from a wide range of ethnic restaurants. These traditional foods share several similarities in terms of origin, preparation and taste, but subtle distinctions make them distinct dishes with specific flavor profiles. Understanding the differences between egg rolls and lumpia allows you to successfully recreate your preferred version at home.
Origin and Terminology
Both lumpia and egg rolls originated from a common food ancestor in China. The rolls were originally know as "lumbia," a term that translates to "moist cake," in the Min Nan language spoken in southern China. Various Asian countries then created their own versions of the basic dish, which was comprised of a thin pastry dough wrapped around minced or chopped vegetables, meats and seasonings. Today, the term "lumpia" is most commonly used to describe a dish associated with the Philippines, whereas egg rolls usually refer to a savory Chinese version of the pastry. However, the term "egg roll" can also be used as a general term for a wide range of similar wrapped-pastry dishes, including lumpia, which are sometimes called "Filipino egg rolls."
The most significant difference between lumpia and egg rolls is the pastry. Egg rolls wrappers are traditionally thicker and wider than lumpia wrappers, making for a larger, heartier roll. Lumpia wrappers are made from either rice paper or wheat flour and corn starch, but no egg. Egg roll wrappers, on the other hand, use egg in addition to white flour. Sometimes spring rolls are also referred to as lumpia; these types of rolls use a wrapper made from just flour and water.
The many manifestations of egg rolls and lumpia include a wide range of filling combinations. Generally speaking, both egg rolls and lumpia are filled with a selection of shredded or chopped vegetables, including cabbage, carrots, sprouts, scallions, garlic, water chestnuts or bamboo shoots. Some versions also include minced meats, like chicken, pork, beef, or shrimp. The most significant filling distinction is in the sauces and seasonings. Lumpia often feature spicy chilis, coconut and cilantro as flavoring agents, while egg rolls more commonly use soy sauce, ginger and sesame.
American-style egg rolls, which are commonly found in Chinese restaurants in the United States, are deep-fried to create a crispy outside layer. Lumpia can be served either fried or fresh. Fresh lumpia are typically served chilled in a thin, chewy rice paper wrapper rather than a flour wrapper. Sometimes fried lumpia are referred to as spring rolls and fresh lumpia are referred to as summer rolls.