Here's our recipe for China’s greatest side dish, the humble spring roll, a cylindrical-shaped culinary superstar that has been eaten in the country since the Eastern Jin dynasty (317-420ad).

What is it?

The ubiquitous spring roll is a crisp, paper-thin pastry wrapped around a dazzling array of fillings, from carrots and beanshoots to shrimp, pork and duck. Bite, crunch, grin.

Ingredients (makes around 20 rolls)

For the filling: 
2 cups beanshoots 
6 dried shiitake mushrooms 
2½ tbs oyster sauce 
1 tbs chicken broth (water is an adequate substitute) 
2 tsp light soy sauce 
1 tsp sugar 
2 tbs oil, for stir-frying 
55g (2oz) canned bamboo shoots, finely sliced 
½ red pepper, diced 
1 medium carrot, grated 
salt and pepper, to taste

For the rolls: 
18-20 spring roll wrappers 
1 egg, lightly beaten 
4-5 cups oil, for deep-frying 
plum sauce or sweet and sour sauce, for dipping

A top-down view of a handful of deep fried spring rolls placed on beautiful plate with chopsticks, and boiled rice on the side.
Spring rolls can be found in various forms on menus across Asia © Daniel_Dash / Shutterstock

How to cook

For the filling:
Step 1: Rinse and drain the beanshoots. Soak the dried mushrooms in warm water. Let the beanshoots dry and the mushrooms soak for 30 minutes.
Step 2: Squeeze the excess water out of the mushrooms, then slice them thinly.
Step 3: Mix the oyster sauce, broth, soy sauce and sugar into a small bowl. Set aside.
Step 4: Spread 2 tbs hot oil around a frying pan. Once sizzling, add the dried mushrooms, then the bamboo shoots, followed by the red pepper, beanshoots and grated carrot.
Step 5: Stir in the oyster-sauce mixture and add salt and pepper to taste.

For the rolls:
Step 1: Lay one wrapper with a corner towards you, then paint the edges with egg.
Step 2: Place 2 tbs of the filling across the bottom half, not quite to the edges. Fold the bottom corner of the wrapper over and tuck it under the filling, fold in the left and right sides, then roll. Brush the top corner lightly with egg, fold over and seal.
Step 3: Place the roll seam-side down on a baking sheet and brush lightly all over with oil. Repeat with the remaining wrappers and filling.
Step 4: Heat the oil for deep-frying to hot, then add several spring rolls at a time and cook until crispy and golden brown (approximately three to four minutes). Remove, then drain on a paper towel. (Healthy alternative: instead of frying, bake the rolls for 12–15 minutes at 180°C (360°F) until golden and crisp.) 
Step 5: Serve with plum sauce or sweet-and-sour sauce for dipping.

Great Wall of China in autumn during sunset.
Send your taste buds on a tour of China by whipping up some spring rolls © Hung Chung Chih / Shutterstock

Tasting notes

Crisp and fresh – that’s the secret to the greatest spring rolls. You want the flour-and-water pastry to be golden and brittle, and the filling to leap around the mouth in great joyous bounds. This contrast lies at the heart of the spring roll’s appeal. On the street, make sure they’re cooked before you. They sit in neat rows, pale and soft, ready for the bubbling cauldron. A dash of vinegar is the perfect foil to the spring roll, and you’ll find this, together with soy sauce, served alongside. They’re eaten at all times of the day, as a cheap snack or part of a full meal.

Other recipes in the series: 

Cornish pasty
Vietnamese banh mi
Portuguese pica pau

Have you recreated any of the dishes featured in this series so far? Share your pictures with us on Twitter and Instagram by tagging @lonelyplanet. For more great recipes, check out Lonely Planet’s book The World’s Best Street Food.

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This article was first published May 2020 and updated August 2020

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