Look at most Chinese menus in any country, and you’ll be likely to find the spring roll (or some version of it) on them.
A beloved favorite, the spring roll’s crispy and oily exterior is balanced against the tasty crunch of the stir-fried vegetables inside.
Tracing its history brings us all the way back to the Eastern Jin dynasty (317-420 AD), where they were thought to have been started as a festive dish to celebrate the beginning of the spring season, which coincides with Chinese New Year.
According to The Shoufu, a collection of stories compiled in the Yuan dynasty (1271-1368 AD), the idea was to combine the abundant harvest of spring vegetables into a single dish.
And there are other legends that mention a spring roll-like dish even further back in the Eastern Zhou period (722 BC-481 AD). As the story goes, a citizen turned down an emperor’s request to become a subject in his palace, because he did not want to leave his ailing mother alone in the mountains.
Enraged, the emperor ordered the mountainside be burned, hoping to drive out the man and his mother. But they died in the fire.
Regretting his actions, the king ordered a day in honour of the man, where no one would be allowed to light any flames. Since people couldn’t cook on the day, people started preparing food in advance, including pancakes rolled up with cooked vegetables—the early spring roll.
Adapted from an original article first posted in the South China Morning Post.