|Course||Hors d'oeuvre or side dish|
|Place of origin||United States|
|Created by||Undetermined. General belief is in New York City in the 1930’s. Henry Low included an egg roll recipe in his 1938 book “Cook at Home in Chinese.”|
|Main ingredients||Wheat pastry skin, cabbage, pork|
|Literal meaning||"egg roll"|
Egg rolls are a variety of deep-fried appetizers served in American Chinese restaurants. An egg roll is a large, cylindrical, savory roll with shredded cabbage, chopped pork, and other fillings inside a thickly-wrapped wheat flour skin, which is fried in hot oil. The dish is served warm, and is usually eaten with the fingers, dipped in duck sauce, soy sauce, plum sauce, or hot mustard, often from a cellophane packet. Egg rolls are a ubiquitous feature of American Chinese cuisine and are often served as free additions to American Chinese lunch special take-out combination platters throughout the United States, along with fried rice and fortune cookies.
Provenance of the dish
The origins of the dish are unclear and remain disputed. Egg rolls are closely related to, but distinct from, the spring rolls served in mainland China, and were first seen in the early 20th century in the United States. An early reference to egg rolls appeared in a 1917 Chinese recipe pamphlet published in the United States, but the dish does not resemble the modern egg roll. The 1917 recipe described a meat and vegetable filling wrapped in an egg omelet, panfried, and served in slices, similar to Gyeran-mari.
Andrew Coe, author of “Chop Suey: A Cultural history of Chinese food in the United States", has stated that the modern American egg roll was probably invented at a Chinese restaurant in New York City in the early 1930s, by one of two chefs who both later claimed credit for the creation: Lung Fong of Lung Fong's, or Henry Low of Port Arthur. According to Coe, Low’s recipe, printed in a 1938 cookbook, Cook at Home in Chinese included “bamboo shoots, roast pork, shrimp, scallions, water chestnuts, salt, MSG, sugar, palm oil, and pepper,” but notably did not include cabbage, which is the main filling ingredient in modern egg rolls.
Egg rolls do not typically contain egg in the filling, and the wheat flour wrapper may or may not contain egg. In addition to the disputed origin of the dish, it is unclear how the word "egg" appeared in the name, since the predominant flavor in American egg rolls is cabbage, not eggs. A 1979 Washington Post article speculated that the Chinese word for "egg" sounds very similar to the Chinese word for "spring", but this theory has not been widely adopted.
Confusion with other varieties of rolls
While there are many types of spring rolls native to East Asia and available in authentic Chinese, Vietnamese, and Thai restaurants in the United States, American egg rolls are distinct. A typical "New York style" egg roll measures approximately two inches in diameter by six inches in length, with a thick, chewy, crispy, bumpy exterior skin. Egg rolls, like other Americanized Chinese food specialties, may contain vegetable cultivars and flavor profiles that are not common in China, including broccoli.
Restaurants that serve egg rolls occasionally also offer spring rolls as a separate menu option, and these spring rolls may be served with a cold filling wrapped in Banh trang rice paper wrappers (particularly at Vietnamese restaurants that serve both egg rolls and spring rolls as appetizers), or fried, as seen in some Thai and Chinese eateries. When fried, spring rolls served in Asian restaurants in the United States usually have a smaller diameter and a lighter, crispier skin made out of thinner sheets of wheat or rice dough.
In popular culture
In the 1968 romantic comedy film With Six You Get Eggroll, a character notes that the combined, albeit chaotic, families of the two romantic leads constitute a party large enough to qualify for free egg rolls when eating out at a Chinese restaurant, a comment from which the film draws its title.
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