Homemade Popiah Skins

We learn from a master popiah maker how to make the skins for this popular roll by hand, from scratch.

Homemade popiah skins

It all started on our friend Mike’s blog with his post about his cousin making popiah skin. I commented that we should have a popiah making party; a couple months later, his cousin was back in town and he invited us to come over to his house to watch and learn. According to him, his cousin put her three children through college by selling her popiahs at the night market. That makes her a master in my book!


For Starters

Popiah (also spelled “poh pia”) is a fresh spring roll. Think of it as an Asian burrito. Only instead of a thick, doughy flour wrapper, popiah are made with a very thin, crepe-like sheet or “skin”.  This skin is made by smearing a ball of dough onto a hot griddle and letting it cook for a few seconds before removing it.  The technique to get a uniformly thin skin is a skill that takes many months of practice.

The dough starts out as a thick batter. The ingredients for the batter are

1 kg flour
4-1/2 cups water
1 Tsp salt
2 Tbsp tapioca flour

You mix all the ingredients together until they make a lumpy batter:

popiah dough batter

But you don’t stop there. The next step in the process is to knead the batter by repeatedly lifting it up and slamming it back down into the bowl until it starts to hold together in ropes.  Here’s a short video demo of how she did it, to show the result she was looking for:

 

After that, the dough is placed in the fridge overnight to rest and continue to develop. The next day, the dough is more solid and less tacky.

popiah dough ready

Are We Having Fun Yet?

Now comes the fun part: cooking the skins.  First, you need a wide, seasoned griddle (preferably cast iron).  Heat it on a medium flame.  Dipping your hand into the container of dough, scoop out a generous lump and pinch it off, winding the dough and gathering it into the cup of your hand.

Now take that lump and smear it quickly and smoothly in a big circle  on the griddle.  Pull up quickly so that only the dough that makes contact with the griddle actually sticks. There may be some high spots of dough remaining on the crepe so flick the dough in your hand down onto the spot to pick them up (the motion is kind of like playing with a yo-yo).  Wait a few seconds while the moisture cooks off. When you see the edge of the crepe start to curl up, carefully peel off the skin and place it on a plate.

Making Popiah Skins

Watch how effortlessly she does it in this video! It’s like magic. (She’s speaking Hokkien, in case you’re wondering.)

Of course, we each had our turns at throwing the dough and smearing the skins. Believe me, it wasn’t pretty! I don’t know how much dough I wasted, but I know I made quite a mess.  I think I managed to get one or two good skins out of my attempts.

So, why make your own popiah skins?

Most of the skins available nowadays in Singapore and Malaysia are machine-made.  In America, you can’t even get fresh made ones – you have to rely on frozen spring roll wrappers.  Machine-made ones are okay only, but they can’t match the thinness, springiness or durability of a freshly hand-made popiah skin.  Only a fresh, hand-made popiah skin can hold together all the popiah fillings without bursting or leaking.

popiah using freshly made skins

Mike’s cousin’s popiahs were very special, and not just because of the homemade skins. The filling for her popiahs consisted of items we’d never seen used before, like crushed, twice-fried you tiau, fried minced hae bee and fried and minced dried fish. They were really amazing.

BUT we’re not going to talk about that popiah. Annie’s Mum, in our opinion, makes the best popiah. So in our next post we will talk about her recipe.

Stay tuned!

Aloha, Nate

71 Comments Post a Comment
  1. Juliana says:

    Wow, this seems a lot of fun…making your own spring rolls skin…I’ve seen it in restaurants, but never thought in doing myself :-) I am sure that the skin taste much much better than the bought ones…by the way, thank you so much for the lovely comments on my site…I

    • Nate says:

      Juliana – it was fun! Quite a learning experience.

      I meant what I said about your site – I love what you’ve done with it and I enjoy perusing your recipes.

  2. SharleneT says:

    Okay. That does it. I am definitely going to have fun learning this trick… I love spring rolls, but will probably have different fillings… can’t wait for the recipes you’re going to share… (please note that I said recipes, with an S, not just recipe… heh heh heh… be back, soon.

  3. Oh, I remember seeing someone making this on the street somewhere. Can’t remember if it was in Vietnam, but I remember the whole sticky dough factor and how she smeared it onto the griddle and pulled it up fast. It looked fun and expert-like, but I don’t know if I could ever master it. The end result looks fantastic though!

    • Nate says:

      Ben – These types of spring rolls are made all over East and Southeast Asia. The fillings differ but the skin making technique is pretty much the same. I’ve yet to master that technique – probably will have to take thousands of attempts before I get it perfect!

  4. valentina says:

    After spending two years going to Sing on business I learnt to love popiah.you have no idea how much I love this post.x

  5. Emmy says:

    Big ‘thanks’ for sharing the recipe and demystifying the process of making these wrappers; can’t wait to attempt them myself!

  6. Becky Choo says:

    Many, many thanks to you for sharing the poh piah skin recipe. I had been searching for it for a very long time and am very grateful that you are sharing it with a new generation of cooks. It is a Hokkien tradition worth preserving. Poh piah is my favorite dish, although I am not sure if I have to skill to make the fresh skins. As we used to joke in Singapore, “Who’s the longest-reigning pope? — POH PIAH!” Cheers.

  7. PollyBee says:

    This is really great. I heard my mother mention about it – how she used to watch the man make it when she was young in Beijing, China. Thank you so much for sharing this less known skill for the home baker/makers. It will go well with roasted duck that I am planning on making for the Thanksgiving Day.

  8. Homemade popiah skin, hope one day I can try out your recipe.

  9. Eddy Popia LoVer says:

    A popiah lover myself i’ve tried your recipe last night, but the dough doesnt seem so sticky ..still soft so i cant seem to get a lump…Question..do i need to cover up the dough overnight in the fridge with cling film or not?..or do i need to add any more of the key ingredients?

    • Nate says:

      Hi Eddy,

      great question. The popiah master did not use cling film – the container had a lid to cover the dough. I really think it’s the slamming technique she uses to develop the gluten and make the dough pliable.

      • MAYA says:

        are you sure that its tapioca flour, i think it gluten starch… coz i’ve asked, and they said i could not be the tapioca flour….

  10. Annabelle says:

    Hi there..

    Enjoyed your food blog. I tried this recipe but the mixture after putting in the fridge overnight is not as “sticky” or “flexible”. I used the regular All Purpose flour & Tapioca Starch. I have looked in grocery stores and websites. Everyone seems to indicate that Tapioca Starch is the same as Tapioca Flour.

    Can you let me know what may be missing to make this mixture ‘stickier’..? I am thinking of reducing the amount of water mentioned in the ingredients.. Also, it seems the photo of the fresh pohpiah skin is ‘whiter’ in color.

    BTW, I tried the cast iron pan and it was not a pretty sight.
    Where can one buy that similar pan (in the states) as shown in video..?

    Thanks.

  11. Eric says:

    I was wondering the same thing about the pan as Annabelle. Thanks for the recipe and videos, Nate.

  12. Serene says:

    I am SO excited to stumble across this recipe and finding so many wonderful others on your blog! Please do keep posting! One question on the recipe for homemade popiah skins: it says 1kg of Flour – can you please clarify what type of flour should be used? Plain flour? All-purpose flour? Rice flour? Thanks and hope to hear back from you soon so that I can have a go at making it!!

  13. sarj says:

    I shall try this recipe soon and my mouth is watering already! :) Thank you for getting back to me and I really love the story behind the Poh Pia master! She did well in raising her children by making Poh Pia, I am touched! x

  14. Josey says:

    Hi there,
    1 Kg flour for the popiah skins, what kind of flour? plain or rice flour. I am so impressed with your mum’s expert skills. Thinking of making for my kids. Thank you so much.

  15. Josey says:

    Hi there,
    1 Kg flour for the popiah skins, what kind of flour? plain or rice flour. I am so impressed with your mum’s expert skills. Thinking of making for my kids. Thank you so much.

  16. Hi Annie,
    Thanks for the video. It was awesome. I had tried making poh piah but was using the spring roll skins instead. This is indeed an eye opener. :)

    Will try the recipe some day. cheers.

  17. Judy says:

    I tried this recipe last night. Put it in the fridge overnight, but it didn’t turn out that sticky way like the one of the old lady… :-( I think the water must be a little too much… Wasted quite a lot of flour, but I did enjoy the videos of the lady cooking the wrappers.

    • Steven says:

      ya… same case here… the batter seems wet after fridge overnight…. btw 4 1/2 cup of water = 1125ml ? tq

  18. Faith says:

    SOHO excited to try these!! I read the comments so was careful when adding the water, I just mixed with one hand and then added water as needed. I think it was about 4C. Dough came out perfect so far, just like the video. I stretched and folded many times and the dough was awesome. I just took the dough out of the frig and did another series of stretch and folds. I’m just wondering, does this dough keep? I think this will make a million wrappers? If I make them, can they be stored? Frozen? Or can the dough be frozen, then used again? Thanks so much for all the helpful info, videos and pics! Really, I am so excited! Making my own kind of Moo Shoo Pork sauce now! Very yummy! I’ll let you know how it goes! Thanks again for posting this!! :)

  19. Faith says:

    So, I’m humbled! :). Your mom makes it look like a piece of cake!! Ha!! You should have seen us! We were flingin’ dough everywhere!!! Finally we came up with a more workable system. We look a big dinner spoon of dough and put it on the griddle. Working fast with a long (cake decorating) spatula we smeared the small portion slowly in a circle. Worked great!! Everyone is eating it now, and in pure HEAVEN!!! Used the Cuisinart to shred all the veggies, make quick work!! What a AWESOME DINNER!! Thank you for posting all the info!! Love it!! Will make it again totally!!!! :)

  20. fatyma113 says:

    Bonjour

    Merci beaucoup pour les videos et les explication..Je l’ai testé et je l’ai réussi..elle resemble à les feuilles de PASTILLA MAROCAINE..

  21. Paul says:

    Holy Cow that is hard. There must be something I’m missing.

    I followed the recipe and ended up with a sloppy mess so I added more tapioca starch and flour and eventually ended up with something workable… except it wouldn’t let go of the skin when I smeared it onto the skillet.

    I got some skins that might be usable but I wouldn’t bet on it. I’m determined to make these things so I’ll keep trying.

    One thing I noticed is that my dough, even after beating it and chilling it, didn’t behave the same way the stuff in the video does. I couldn’t whip it and have it grab and let go of the skin.. it would just grab the whole skin and make a mess.

    Any pointers would be most appreciated.

  22. I knew you guys would have an awesome blogpost about this. So need to try recreating this in London! HF x

  23. Espie says:

    Hello,

    It is a driven desire for me to learn and develop this skill by your help and my personal perseverance. I acutally tried doing this today but it was not successful. Is conrstarch a good replacement for tapioca starch? Thanks for your help.

  24. Rosemary Chin says:

    Hi Annie and Nate,
    Just want to congratulate you on your blog- House of Annie.
    I just found it and have been browsing at all the postings. I do like your presentation and great photos. I have been posting some items in my timeline.
    Are you still in San Jose? Keep up the good work:-)
    Cheers,
    Rosemary

  25. Yan Ten says:

    Hi,Annie and Nate,
    Thank you for your information about hand make popiah skin, I will try to make it myself at home. Your blog is very wonderful for people who love cooking.
    Thank you so much.

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My Photo Annie is mistress of the kitchen while Nate is the master of the grill and smoker. We cook the homestyle Asian and Hawaiian foods of our younger days while also exploring the wider worlds of Western foods.

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