Known also as cong you bing, scallion pancakes are fragrant disks of unleavened dough layered with (you guessed it) finely sliced scallions. The dish, which can be found in many Chinese restaurants in North America, is just as popular a street food in parts of China as it is in restaurants.
“The scallion pancake is one of the most popular and signature dishes from Hong Kong,” Philippe Chow, Executive Chef of Philippe Chow in Manhattan, told me in an email. Chow explained that unlike Western pancakes, scallion pancakes are made from dough rather than batter, though the recipe is about as simple as any pancake recipe an American would be familiar with. A mixture of flour, salt, sesame oil, and water, forms a shaggy dough that gets kneaded into a smooth ball. Then comes the fun part. After the dough rests for a bit, Chow’s team roll the dough flat, brush it with sesame oil, top it with minced scallions and salt, then roll it up (sort of like a jelly roll), and finally slice it into pieces. The rounds are flattened into disks, then fried low and slow. The result is a chewy yet crunchy, flaky, and just oily enough pancake. They’re typically served in the United States with a dipping sauce, often soy sauce, a chili sauce, or a mixture of something sweet, sour, and salty, like sugar, vinegar or lime juice, and fish or soy sauce.
The recipe might sound more like a flatbread than a pancake (as Americans know them, at least), and that’s not wrong. In fact, there are stories claiming that scallion pancakes were an early influence on the first pizza recipes. Though largely unsubstantiated, some folktales say that after a trip to China, Marco Polo returned to Italy and had cooks try to recreate the scallion pancakes that he ate. Instead of landing on the light, flakey dough of scallion pancakes, they instead made the chewy, firmer dough we know as pizza crust.
When it comes to eating scallion pancakes for breakfast, Chow has a suggestion. “In Chinese culture, scallion pancakes are paired with rice soup for breakfast,” he said. Or, consider topping a pancake or two with a fried egg and some chile crisp. It wouldn’t be traditional, but it would be extremely tasty.