Born and bred in southern China, Fanny Go did not grow up eating egg rolls.
Family meals in her part of Guangdong province were dominated by rice, greens, preserved vegetables and morsels of meat.
But ever since she and her now-late husband Tom decided to whip up a batch for a Rogers Park Chicago block party 45 years ago, these golden cylinders have become a family and neighborhood tradition.
"My parents would make as many as 500 for people at the block party to eat and take home," says the Gos' eldest daughter, Jean. "They knew that food always brought people together. So, over the years, they created a lot of good relationships around here."
Like Fanny Go, who came to the United States in the early '60s, the egg roll represents a 20th-century meeting of two cultures. Though dim sum chefs in Hong Kong produce a similar snack called a spring roll, the egg roll, as we know it, is a creation of early Chinese-American restaurateurs who used local ingredients to create Chinese-ish foods that would appeal to American diners.
One of the restaurateurs who helped popularize the egg roll was my grandfather, Harry Eng, whose nephew, Tom Go, worked as a manager in the family's downtown Chicago chop suey palaces for decades. Tom Go based his egg roll recipe on the appetizers that proved such a hit with the restaurants' clientele.
Today Fanny Go, 87, carries on the Chinese-American tradition by making the savory treats for parties and family gatherings. Most of the ingredients can be found in the average American grocery store, if not in your kitchen.
Unrolling a bit of history
According to author Andrew Coe, who wrote "Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States," the egg roll was likely invented in New York sometime in the early 1930s. One of the chefs who claimed the honor, Henry Low, even included an egg roll recipe in his 1938 book "Cook at Home in Chinese."
According to Coe, the recipe included "bamboo shoots, roast pork, shrimp, scallions, water chestnuts, salt, MSG, sugar and pepper," a much more luxurious mix than the "cabbage, flecked with bits of pork and carrot for color," that "rose to dominate the restaurant tables and freezer sections."
With the Gos' recipe, many of those luxurious fillings have been restored and Fanny Go encourages home cooks to add just about anything they want as long as it's chopped small, fully cooked and drained of most moisture.