Despite a food-additive scare involving the use of bleaching agents in some white spring roll (runbing, 潤餅) wrappers, consumers were willing to wait in long lines at a store in Taoyuan’s Nanmen Market on the eve of Tomb Sweeping Day to buy freshly made wrappers.
One tradition on Tomb Sweeping Day is for family members to get together to make and eat runbing, a non-fried variety of spring roll.
A woman surnamed Wu (吳) was one of the customers waiting in line at the store at 10pm on Saturday night.
She said the store owner had not slept for two days because of the urgent demand for freshly made wrappers ahead of the holiday.
The store owner had also raised the price of freshly made wrappers from NT$120 per 600g to NT$200, hoping to encourage people to either buy less or buy frozen wrappers, which were marked at the original price, Wu said.
She said she told the owner that she wanted to buy 4.8kg of the freshly made wrappers, no matter how much he charged, because that was what she needed to feed her entire family.
Wu ended up waiting in line until midnight and did not arrive home until 2am on Sunday.
Wu was not the only consumer undaunted by concerns about additives used in making runbing “skins,” as lines were seen at many shops and stores selling them.
An essay by Taiwanese gourmand and food writer Lucille Han (韓良露), The Story of Run Bing, says runbing can be eaten on any major family holiday, including Lunar New Year’s Eve.
“Eating spring rolls is basically a family matter, and normally you would not eat them if you have only three to five people,” Han wrote. “It is a feast that you have when you have a large family gathering. People make their own spring rolls. Instead of sitting around a table, people leave the table with the runbing they have made, find whatever place they can to sit and eat and talk with relatives at the same time.”
Han said that people in Taiwan often eat spring rolls about noon on Tomb Sweeping Day, either at a cemetery where they have been cleaning the family tombs or at home after they finish their tomb-sweeping duties.
She wrote that there are different stories about the origin of the spring rolls. One story said that they were invented to worship ancestors on Tomb Sweeping Day when the Mongolians invaded southern China, using roll-out dough wrappers and leftover vegetables.
Another story credited the creation to a Madame Lee (李) in the Ming Dynasty, who wanted something quick to make for her husband, because he was in the military and could not eat meals at regular times.
Runbing ingredients reflect regional differences, Han wrote. She said that her mother and grandmother, who were both from Tainan, would put almost 20 dishes of ingredients out, including cabbage, red carrots, bean sprouts, leeks, celery, cilantro, snow peas, lima beans, strips of egg, shredded bean curd, shredded pork and peanut powder.
According to Han, people in Tongan, in China’s Fujian Province, place a bed of oily sticky rice on the wrapper before adding vegetables, while across the province in Quanzhou, some people like fried oysters in their runbing.
Ethnic Chinese in Singapore make a small opening at one end of a runbing so they can pour in a bit of the stock used to cook the vegetables, giving their spring rolls more flavor and moisture, she wrote.
Former Landis Taipei Group chairman Stanley Yen (嚴長壽) said a standard list of runbing ingredients is not necessary, because different ingredients allow for creativity.
“If you want to give a spring roll a crispy and crunchy texture, why not put fried shrimp rolls inside as well?” he said.
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