we have a house in the philippines in the city of baguio, some 5000 feet above sea level, and a good 7 hour drive from manila (without traffic, that is). i say 'good' in the sense that it is thorough, not pleasant; in fact, i would say it's a downright pisser of a journey--flat, hot, and trafficky in the beginning, then rocky, hot, and trafficky when you get to the provinces that are covered in the lahar from mount pinatubo, then treacherous, nausea-inducing switchback roads as you climb through the grand cordillera mountain range.
the pay-off is that baguio is gorgeous, a little provincial garden town nestled amongst pine trees in the mountains, and the weather is mild, often a good 15-20 degrees cooler than in manila. the weather is good enough for there to be roses and strawberries almost year-round.
you can get there by bus or by plane (good luck to you, my son), but we always go by car. i'm usually okay until halfway through, and then i get all stroppy and cranky, so we have to make a pitstop. more often than not, it's at max's fried chicken in tarlac. max's, "the house that fried chicken built", is everywhere in the philippines, and is a nice sit-down establishment that basically serves a fast food version of filipino and filipinized american food. i guess it's sort of a pinoy denny's. it's not that the food is bad, it's far from it, but it's reasonable and has been around forever, so it tends to be dismissed.
the fried chicken is actually very good because it is unbattered, unadorned, and fresh. all the other dishes i've tried are good, but the one thing i order (actually, pretty much the only thing i order) is their version of lumpiang ubod, or fresh lumpia with hearts of palm. lumpia is the filipino version of a spring roll, and 'fresh' lumpia signifies it's not fried. it's more akin to a filled crepe than a spring roll, really. the max's version is very simple--just an yellow, eggy crepe with a lettuce leaf filled with sauteed ubod (hearts of palm), onion and pork strips, rolled up, and served with a sweet soy-garlic sauce. what i like about it besides its simplicity, is the silky, springy crepe used as the wrap. most places these days just use uncooked commercial (fried) lumpia wrapper, and that my friends, just sucks. it's paper thin, made of just barely cooked through cornstarch and wheat flour, and dries up terribly.
anyway, for the party, i set out to make a version of the max's lumpia. i didn't want to go through the hassle of chopping down a palm tree, and canned hearts of palm don't do it for me, so i settled on making it a strictly vegetable wrap.
the simple part is the filling: sautee chopped onion, chopped garlic, shredded carrots, shredded cabbage, bean sprouts, and green beans cut on the diagonal in a little oil, with salt or soy sauce and pepper to taste. set aside, then separate a lettuce head into leaves (any lettuce will do but i prefer red lettuce or romaine), wash, pat dry, and set that aside as well.
now, the wrapper is a little tricky. i looked around for a recipe for an authentic lumpia wrapper, and tried a few, but didn't like the results. they were all variations of a crepe made with cornstarch and/or rice flour, but i found them too similar to the frying kind, and prone to drying up, so i stuck with a basic crepe recipe i've used before, only slightly modified:
fresh lumpia wrapper/crepe
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 cup water (or 1/2 cup water mixed with 1/2 milk)
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons of melted butter or vegetable oil
dash of salt
whizz up all ingredient in a blender until relatively smooth (don't leave it lumpy, but don't beat out the strays to death). leave to rest in the refrigerator for at least an hour, ideally overnight. the consistency is up to you, but i find that it can't be any thicker than pancake batter, otherwise you'd have...pancakes. i like mine to be quite loose, akin to real maple syrup. this will make 20 regular sized crepes or 9-10 supersize ones.
if i am only making a few crepes, i just use a large skillet sprayed down with non-stick cooking spray and i twirl the batter around until a thin film coats the bottom. cook on medium heat until the underside of it is just cooked through and beginning to brown, then flip over once. but if i have to make a lot, i pull out my garganto huge-o large-o crepe griddle. i can only seem to make crepes that are the diameter of the griddle (12"), but they are paper thin and cook in seconds. stack them up on a plate and cover with a damp paper towel or clingfilm to keep from drying out.
this is actually a little browner than you want it, but eh.
assembly is simple: on a crepe, place down one lettuce leaf so the crinkly end is peeking out. spread out the vegetable filling over this, then roll the whole thing into a cigar shape. if your crepes are large you can fold them over, or cut in half.
the sauce served with this is a fresh garlic sauce made with 1 cup water, 1/2 cup soy sauce, 2 tbsp of sugar and 2 tbsp of cornstarch all cooked down to a loose pudding-like consistency. take off heat, add finely chopped garlic to taste (1 to 2 tbsp is normal). it looks *disgusting* but it's delish.