DIY scallion pancakes
Scallion pancakes -- congyou bing (葱油饼) -- are a staple of the Shanghai street food scene.
Found everywhere from street food stalls to dim sum houses, these pancakes are crispy disks sprinkled with green onions and lightly fried on a piping hot cast iron surface.
Compact and delicious -- no messy sauces or falling bits here -- this is one of the easiest Shanghai street foods to grab and go, especially for breakfast and lunch.
“In the early mornings,” explains scallion pancake vendor Mr Wang, who set up his own international house of pancakes stall on Fengyang Lu, near Xinchang Lu by People’s Square, “I make the dough at my house. I store it in a plastic container and when I run out, my stall is closed for the day.”
Keep it rolling
While telling us about his pancakes, Wang quickly snatches a ball of dough and kneads it on a floured surface until the rough ball becomes a smooth and elastic sphere.
He then rolls it out into a long cylindrical tube, dividing the log into 12 pieces and quickly rolling each piece out into a flat disk.
Nearly ready for frying after only a few quick moves, the dough is quickly sprinkled with freshly chopped scallions.
Wang then fluidly, but carefully, rolls up the dough, pinching the ends so none of the scallions escapes. He rolls up the dough a second time, so they now resemble snails or little spiral pinwheels.
Now, we can fry
Wang presses down and flattens each wheel of dough before looking up, smiling, and saying, "Now, we can fry."
Soon he drops the dough disks, one at a time, onto his smoking, hot and oiled surface.
As the pancakes cook and pop on the hot plate, Wang explains that he loves selling this food because he gets to meet so many people. Due to his prime real estate near People’s Square and the scallion pancake's popularity, he's in the perfect place for breakfast and lunch traffic, but he understands that if he wants to be able to chat, preparation is the key to his success.
I just put my head down and fry until there is no line anymore, it can take a while.— Mr Wang, master scallion pancake vendor
“Because my stall is near People’s Square and [this food] is so popular, I must be prepared to sell a lot of these pancakes during the day," he says. "I try to prepare early, by making my dough at home and rolling it out right when I get here, so when someone wants a bing, I can just use one of my pre-rolled dough and start frying.”
“Sometimes at lunch it's tough, I get behind, and the line grows pretty long, pretty quickly,” Wang admits. “I sometimes have to make people wait while I roll out more dough, hopefully I can make it fast enough though that they don’t get impatient and leave.”
While Wang’s lines never quite match the cues found at the China Pavilion, even the hungry masses inline are impressed with how quickly he can roll out his dough, watching his expert hands and waiting patiently for their own hot disk.
“I like to fry each pancake fresh for my customers, but during lunch, this is nearly impossible. So, I just put my head down and fry until there is no line anymore; it can take a while.”
Wang’s pancakes are delicious and if he runs out of pre-rolled dough, they are definitely worth stopping by daily until you nab one. Crispy, without being greasy, these bing are the perfect Shanghai street food snack.
Or, you could cook one up ourself with the recipe on the next page thanks to Mr Wang, the master scallion pankcake man himself.
(Click "Next" to see the recipe for Mr Wang's scallion pancakes)
Mr Wang’s DIY scallion pancakes
Makes about a dozen
- 120g flour (a mixture of millet and all-purpose flour to taste, or just it can be made only with all-purpose flour)
- Pinch of salt
- 1/2 cup nearly boiling water
- 2 spoonfuls of sesame oil
- 2 chopped green onions (green part only)
- Oil for frying
- Whisk together the salt and flour in a large mixing bowl.
- Add the water and oil and stir until a dough is formed.
- Kneed the dough until it's smooth and elastic (five to 10 minutes), adding flour if it feels too wet.
- Let the dough rest for 30 minutes.
- Roll out the dough into a long cylindrical tube.
- Divide the dough evenly into 12 pieces.
- Roll out each piece into a thin, flat disk.
- Sprinkle each piece with enough green onion to cover the surface.
- Roll up the dough, pinching the sides so the scallions do not fall out.
- Roll up the dough again, so each piece looks like spiral (see photo above), and let rest.
- Press down each piece of rolled up dough until it becomes a flat disk.
- Heat oil in a frying pan.
- Fry each pancake for two to three minutes on each side until they are crispy and brown. Turn just once to ensure a nice crispy texture.
- Drain the pancakes on paper towels and serve hot.