Celebrating its seventh edition, the Spring Popia Festival (春天潤餅文化節) greets the arrival of spring with a series of walking tours, lectures, exhibitions and food tasting that centers on the event’s annual protagonist, popia, or runbing (潤餅) in Mandarin, which is a type of spring roll that originated in Fujian Province and the Chaoshan regions of eastern Guangdong, China. The delicacy finds colorful variations in Taiwan and southeast Asian countries including Singapore, Malaysia, Vietnam, Indonesia and Thailand.
A soft, thin crepe made from wheat flour and stuffed with seasonal vegetables and other ingredients, popia is traditionally eaten on Tomb Sweeping Day (清明節). In some regions, the food is also consumed on winter solstice or Chinese New Years Eve, according to Lulu Han (韓良露), the head of South Village (南村落), which organizes the annual event.
The filling also differs according to region. The ingredients include cabbage, grated carrot, shredded omelet, bean sprouts, pork, shrimp meat and sliced fried tofu combined with peanut powder. For those in southern Taiwan, generous amounts of sugar is the key to a delicious popia.
Traditionally, eating the delicacy is a family affair. Once a year, family members are invited to a popia party. Guests make their own roll with the assembled ingredients according to their own tastes. For families and friends, it is a merry occasion, and popia has long been a symbol of prosperity and affluence, Han said.
Han, who is also a celebrated gastronome and food historian, says the eating tradition evokes memories of a carefree childhood.
“On a personal level, the festival is my way to pay tribute to my mother and grandmother to whom the popia party was an important occasion each spring,” she said.
The festival opened Tuesday at the Beitou Museum (北投文物館) with nanguan (南管) music performances, tea drinking and food tasting and runs through April 21. It features a lineup of 20 activities that mostly take place at the museum, which is itself a historical site worth visiting. Built in 1921 during the Japanese colonial era as a high-end hot spring hotel, the traditional Japanese house is tucked away in the mountains and embellished with a lush garden.
One of the hotel’s many legends says that the place once served as a guesthouse for kamikaze pilots. In 1998, the well-preserved building complex was designated a historical site by the Taipei City Government.
To accompany the festival, the museum is holding a special tea culture exhibition that focuses on Taiwan’s tea history as well as other tea-drinking cultures in Japan, Tibet, Turkey and the UK. A historical photograph exhibition is currently on display at the antique-filled Formosa Vintage Museum Cafe (秋惠文庫), while Hui Liu (回留), a restaurant which specializes in seasonal organic ingredients, is staging a pottery exhibition.
For music lovers, nanguan virtuoso Wang Xinxin (王心心) will hold a lecture and music demonstration on Sunday. Tea connoisseur Ho Chien (何健) will talk about tea culture tomorrow and on Sunday.
Those interested in getting an insider’s look at the area around Beitou can check out the walking tours held on April 21 that are intended to explore the area’s nooks and crannies as well as hot spring spots.
Festival brochures can also be found online or downloaded in a pdf file at www.southvillage.com.tw. Information regarding the transportation to the museum is available through its Web site at www.beitoumuseum.org.tw.