July 22, 2014

Why is it Called an Egg Roll if There is No Egg in it? Chinese Egg Roll 1917: Historical Food Fortnightly, Challenge 4

If you are like me, you might have sat in your favorite Chinese restaurant and ate an egg roll only to ponder why it has such an unusual name. After all, there is no egg in it. I had always assumed they used egg to make the dough and that's why it was called an egg roll. It turns out some recipes use eggs for the wrapper but plenty don't. For those of you new to egg rolls, egg rolls are cabbage and meat filled pockets wrapped in dough and fried. 

Egg Rolls are a strictly Chinese- American meal and no one knows who invented them but two Chinese- Americans have taken credit for popularizing them. There isn't an equivalent dish back in china but modern egg rolls are very much like spring rolls which are meat and vegetables wrapped in a thin rice paper wrapper.

Another possible origin for the misnomer could be a dish called "Dan Gun" or Egg Roll. In 1917, a Chinese American Cookbook was published with a dish that was vegetables and meat literally wrapped up in an egg and sliced. This type of an egg roll was also mentioned in a 1921 issue of Good Health. In 1943 in a pamphlet entitled Two Bells, the 1917 recipe was reprinted as an example of a dish that could be made from produce from a victory garden. Was it possible that the name stuck even though the wrapper didn't? We will probably never know. What we do know is that the dough wrapped version popped up sometime in the 1930s.

So for this Historical Food Fortnightly Challenge, I've made the traditional Dan Gun.

Historic Foodways

The Challenge: Foreign Foods

The Recipe: 

Historic Foodways

The Date/Year and Region:
1917, New York

How Did You Make It:


- 3 Eggs
-  Dried reconstituted Mushrooms
- Bean Sprouts
- Thick Slice of Ham
- Piece of Chicken
-Sesame Oil


Slice mushrooms, ham and chicken in long slices. Add sesame seed oil to skillet on medium heat. Fry the bean sprouts, ham, chicken and mushrooms for around 5 minutes. Add enough water to cover the food and cook until the water is gone, make sure to stir once the water is low to prevent burning. Once cooked, set aside to let cool.  Scramble the eggs. Grease a small skillet with the sesame oil and place on low heat. Add a few tablespoons of egg and tilt the pan around until you have a thin layer of egg. Cook until done, remove and let cool. Once cool put a thin layer of bean sprouts and meat on the entire egg and roll up. Cut into slices and add sauce. I used the sauce as a glue for the roll instead of raw egg.  

Time to Complete:
30 Minutes

Total Cost:

Historic Foodways

How Successful Was It?:
It tasted good but I didn't have any knives sharp enough to cut the rolls perfectly straight. I would eat something similar to this again. I would probably add nappa cabbage and bamboo shoots.

How Accurate Is It?: I don't eat meat, I used a meat substitute. I also used a store bought sauce as I had it on hand. There is a sauce recipe in another part the book.


  1. Wow! Great research. I love eggrolls and had never thought about the name before. It looks like it was hard to get the egg so thin.

    1. Thanks! I did have problems on the first one. I wasn't sure if I should have flipped it or not. You don't have to flip it. It's thin enough to get done on both sides.

    2. Well actually the "Asian" version of it is called a spring roll.

  2. Very nice post, impressive. its quite different from other posts. Thanks for sharing.
    Chowringhee Restaurant near Venkateshwar College.

  3. It's because they are made to dip in egg drop soup. ;)

  4. Well actually the "Asian" version of an egg roll is called a spring roll.

  5. Yum! How interesting. I have always wondered that!

  6. You can't make the recipe if you don't eat meat. Try again when you start eating meat like a normal person and then tell us about it.


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