Scallion pancakes are arguably one of my favorite foods to exist. First off, I love Chinese food. Secondly, I love pancakes. While these are nothing like the fluffy breakfast sweet stacks we know as Sunday morning pancakes, I still thought the reference to the pancake many of us know, was valid.

Scallion pancakes are the common name for cong you bing (葱油饼); a Chinese savory green onion pancake made with unleavened flatbread folded with oil and minced scallions. They are also very popular in Taiwanese cuisine. These pancakes are made from pan fried dough (not batter!) with a flaky exterior and a chewy interior. I always order them when they’re on a menu and love tasting the way different Chinese takeout restaurants prepare them. Some make them flatter, others thicker; some are extra chewy, others are extra crispy.

To be honest, I had never thought about the process that created the flaky yet doughy goodness until I decided to try my hand at making them. Cooking can teach us a lot about ourselves and about the food we’re making. Taking time in the process of making scallion pancakes allowed me to slow down and relax: taking time to think as I rolled the dough rather mindlessly. It also probed me to dive into what scallion pancakes are; both in recipe and in history. 

Sydney Raslowsky

Since the making of scallion pancakes dates back to early Chinese history (legend has it they first became popular in Shanghai), there are legends that have traveled with them. In fact, it’s rumored that Marco Polo was a huge fan of scallion pancakes (according to blogs and research websites). After his voyage, when he arrived home in Italy, he tried to have his array of chefs make different types of pancakes so that he could be reunited with scallion pancakes. Sadly, they did not whip up this creation, and instead he got the early beginnings of a beloved Italian delicacy: pizza.

Making this delicacy from scratch has never been on the forefront of my to-do list, but when I was left with a rainy day home, it popped into my mind. Before I knew it, I was chopping green onions and rolling dough. I followed (or tried to follow) a recipe from the Omnivore's Cookbook, which was one of the first recipes that came up with my search.

Course of action:

The process of making the dough isn’t too difficult. After you let your initial bowl of measured dough rest, you section it off into smaller balls to rest. Eventually, you flatten the portions into thin rectangles where you can then spread the filling and sprinkle on the scallions. Then you roll the mixture into the dough into a skinny log. Then twist it into a cinnamon roll shape and press to flatten. Measure, mix, roll, rest. Cut, roll, rest. Flatten, spread, roll, twist, flatten.

Sydney Raslowsky

Then the filling is just oil, flour, and scallions. The recipe is also incredibly forgiving. Take my mistake for example: I mixed the scallions into my filling mixture when I was actually just supposed to sprinkle them on top after spreading the filling. Sure, it made my spreading a bit messier, but nothing else. I also attribute it to the fact that I didn't read the recipe in its entirety before starting. Who has time for directions!? (Don’t tell my professors!) I also went a tad overboard on the scallions… like maybe used up the whole filling on the first half of my dough. So I made some more, and honestly… there’s no such thing as too many scallions. Measure, mix, spread.

Sydney Raslowsky

Once the flattened cinnamon rolls…err I mean scallion pancakes are ready to go, it's time to shallow fry them. I just used ‘ol reliable vegetable oil to coat the bottom of my heated pan. I covered the pan when they first started cooking to help develop the chewy interior, while the hot oil facilitated the crusty exterior. I tried to use chopsticks to flip them, and while that worked for some of my flipping attempts, my scallion-overloaded pancakes needed the support of a spatula at some points too.

A final product to be proud of:

My aha moment was when I took the first pancake off the frying pan and pulled it apart into pieces for my mom and I to share. It perfectly came apart in flaky doughy chunks that resembled the exact texture of the takeout pancakes I love to get. Crackly on the outside and stretchy and sink-your-teeth-in chewy on the interior. It was delicious. Absolutely perfect. As someone who doesn’t get to cook while at school, I cherish each of these times when I can experiment in the kitchen that I once took for granted. It made me hungry for more experimenting: trying to remake scallion pancakes for a different size or texture, or trying my hand at another classic recipe.

The dipping sauce I made was just soy sauce, rice vinegar, and sugar. It always amazes me when such simple ingredients create such a burst of flavor. It perfectly complemented the pancakes, and I was very glad I didn’t omit it for solely a side of soy sauce. I think that following traditional recipes provides us with a healthy separation from what food is commonly seen as, nowadays in diet culture. I never once thought of nor came across a recipe preaching a “healthier scallion pancake” that’s sugar-free or oil-free. Frankly, I wouldn’t want that one bit. I fell in love with the simple ingredients yet this detailed process. I felt it gave me the opportunity to really transform the ingredients. That made it even more rewarding. I was proud: I did that. Pour, stir, dip.

Lessons learned:

A rainy afternoon, a fun activity with a friend, an impressive dish to show up with at a potluck. Is this a quick recipe to make when you’re short on time? Absolutely not. Is it the quickest way to satisfy your scallion pancake craving? Probably not, if you live close to a Chinese restaurant. But is this a fun, rewarding, and delicious process? Undoubtedly yes.

After being in the kitchen for a few hours, I would 100% recommend making these. Will I do it again tomorrow? Sadly, no because I don’t have a kitchen in my dorm. However, as soon as I get home this summer: the frying pan will be out and I’ll be rolling scallion pancakes. The resting and rolling time gives you time to slow down, something I often need to be reminded of the importance of. The final product is deliciously savory, where I was truly tasting the fruits of my labor. Tear, share, bite.

Sydney Raslowsky