Scallion pancakes are one of the staples of Northern Chinese food. It was brought over to Taiwan by the retreating Nationalists from China after their defeat in the Chinese civil war. Over the years, the scallion pancake has become so popular in Taiwan that it is now an integral part of the local culinary landscape. It is offered in restaurants, on the streets, in food courts, and in dedicated scallion-pancake only food outlets. Not only are they sold everywhere, scallion pancakes are also considered to be a food item that can be eaten either for breakfast, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, or as a late-night indulgence.
Scallion pancakes can be prepared through a variety of cooking methods; they come in different shapes and sizes; they can also be had with different types of sauces. The version that I had today was pan-fried, huge, and subtly-flavoured. I bought it from a fairly well-known hole-in-the-wall scallion-pancake-only joint in the Tienmu district of Taipei.
They usually don’t allow people to take photographs of their shop, but my mother-in-law was able to convinced them to let us take pictures of not only the finished scallion pancakes, but also the pan-frying process.
Each large-pizza-sized scallion pancake dough goes through three pans before they reach their final, finished-product stage. The kneaded and flattened dough was first placed in the one of the pans farthest from the sidewalk, where the customers line up.
Once the pancake no longer looked like raw dough, it was moved to the second pan. And once it took the shape of the scallion pancake, it was moved to the final pan.
They used spatulas to “mess with” the surfaces of the pancakes to slightly break apart the crust, creating a “flaky” visual effect. Once the pancake was deemed to be ready for consumption with evenly distributed brown spots on its surface, it was taken off the final pan.
The large pancake was then cut into a half, and then quartered, and finally placed in a paper bag.
The scallion pancake didn’t wow me with its flavours and textures on my first bite. It was neither very crunchy nor very flaky. It did not have a a bold scallion flavour, nor was it very salty or oily. Scallions were used sparingly and I was also not hit over the head with the bold flavours of animal fat.
The flavours and textures of the pancake were subtle and subdued. The scallions were only faintly aromatic, yet the aromas were somehow always present. The pancake was probably one of the least oily scallion pancakes available, but I was always reminded of the inclusion of lard with a hint of it on every bite. It also was sparingly salted, and that allowed the beautifully doughy flavour of the pancake to reveal itself. I could definitely feel the flakiness and crunchiness of the crust, but no part of the crust disintegrated into a flaky mess while I was holding a piece of the pancake in my hand. The middle layer of the scallion pancake was also subtly chewy and teeth-bouncing, which paired nicely with the flaky crust. The flavours and textures of the scallion pancakes were so tempered that I did not feel overwhelmed after having my first piece. Because it felt so light while also being enjoyable, I kept on having piece after piece until I eventually finished an entire large-pizza-sized pancake.
It had been a long time since I’ve had a scallion pancake from this place and I was actually surprised at how light and subtle all of its elements were. I can certainly appreciate subtle flavours and textures; its just that I totally did not expect them in the usually boldly flavoured scallion pancakes. But you know what? I really liked the scallion pancakes I had today. I appreciated the fact that I did not get heartburn or feel disgustingly oily and overstuffed after having an entire sheet of it. I wonder if I can find an equally un-oily and enjoyable Chinese oil stick/dough fritter/youtiau while I’m still in Taipei…probably not.