I was introduced to Filipino cuisine back in my first year at Rutgers College. I met a classmate in my calculus class who was wearing a tennis racquet pendant. I asked him if he played tennis. I had a good hunch that the answer would be yes. Neato and I quickly became good friends and sneaked out the back door of the Hill Center lecture hall a number of times to play tennis. I attended some of his family’s parties and had my first taste of lechon (suckling pig), roast duck, pancit, ox-tail soup, spare ribs, dinuguan (blood pudding), chicken adobo, and lumpia. Everything tasted amazing (except for maybe the blood pudding as it probably wasn’t my blood type). Neato and his family showed me how to make my own lumpia (Filipino spring rolls). They were lighter and thinner than traditional Chinese egg rolls. They were filled with ground pork and beef, vegetables and bean sprouts. The filling was rolled into spring roll wrappers and pan fried in oil. They were served with a dipping sauce of soy sauce, vinegar and thin sliced garlic. They were crispy, golden brown and addictively delicious. Through the years, I’ve dabbled with cooking Filipino dishes, and regularly make lumpia.
I was first exposed to Jewish cuisine prenatally via the matzoh balls, brisket, corned beef and kugel Mom ate during my nine month stay in the womb. I was born in St. Francis Catholic hospital in Trenton, NJ, but Grandma Rose brought in kosher salami sandwiches to ensure Mom had the familiar taste of home. During my childhood, I experienced making egg bagels with Grandpa Sol, eating Grandma Gussie’s salmon latkes (salmon croquettes), and took many trips to kosher delicatessens in Brooklyn, food coma-inducing visits to the Catskills along with many holiday meals with my extended family.
I love cooking and am the primary chef in my household. My wife and I regularly host holidays in our home. One Rosh Hashanah, I made chopped liver with real gribenes and schmaltz (chicken fat and the crispy cracklings left behind after the rendering process), and probably roast chicken or brisket. I needed another appetizer for our guests to sample when they arrived. Normally, I’d make lumpia, but the pork filling wouldn’t go over too well for a Jewish holiday celebration. I decided to fill spring roll wrappers with a mixture of potatoes and caramelized onions (kind of like a knish/blintze mashup) and others with kasha varnishkes (buckwheat groats, fried onions and small bowtie pasta). It was on that day, that Filipino lumpia with Jewish inspired fillings became Schlumpia® .