Meet nouveaux spring rolls
Think of spring roll wrappers as the covers of a book: Absolutely anything can be contained within them. According to Andrew Coe, author of "Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States," chefs from all ethnic backgrounds have been experimenting with fillers since the wheat flour sheets were widely available. He lists chicken-and-banana spring rolls, Philly cheese steak spring rolls and s’mores egg rolls among the interesting known variations.
Learn their backstory
The Chinese-American egg roll that launched a thousand riffs is a direct descendant of chun guen, a traditional Chinese preparation featuring the spring’s first vegetables bundled in a soft wheat-based wrapper. In the U.S., the roll acquired a thicker, fried casing and seafood-themed stuffing.
Henry Low, one of two New York City restaurateurs to take credit for inventing the snack, in 1938 published an egg roll recipe calling for bamboo shoots, roast pork, shrimp, scallions, water chestnuts, sugar, salt, pepper and MSG. His rival Lum Fong in 1952 provided a similar recipe to Life Magazine, except his version incorporated garlic and soy sauce (in both cases, the namesake egg went into the wrapper.) Although many money-minding kitchens simplified the stuffing, the Chinatown style became standard in Chinese-American and Polynesian restaurants across the country.
Since those days, a few decidedly non-Asian rolls have emerged as favorites. Frozen pizza rolls date back to the 1950s. Irish eggrolls, stuffed with corned beef and cabbage, remain a popular menu item in Irish-themed pubs. And Boudin Link, a website devoted to the Cajun sausage, has declared that boudin egg rolls are “boudin’s next big thing.” Menard’s Cajun Grocery in Duson, Louisiana, sells about 700 of them each week.
In Charleston, the best-known localized spring roll is Donald Barickman’s Down South Egg Roll, first assembled in the 1990s for Magnolias. The restaurant still annually sells thousands of the chicken, collard-and-tasso ham combination. But area diners also have their pick of the pork barbecue-and-pimento cheese spring rolls at Page’s Okra Grill, tuna-and-pineapple spring rolls at Cypress and shrimp-and-grits spring rolls at The Noisy Oyster.
And order them here
The Alley, 131 Columbus St., thealleycharleston.com, 843-818-4080 (Pizza spring rolls with pepperoni, mozzarella and basil, $6.95)