The food that Westerners know today as Chinese pancakes goes by the name Jianbing in China. This delicious dish has also been around for a lot longer than diners might assume. Its origins date to third-century China where the chancellor of the Chinese state of Shu Han had difficulty providing consistent meals to soldiers. This was due to the soldiers having lost their cooking supplies while fighting battles for their country.
As a solution to this dilemma, the chancellor instructed cooks to mix wheat flour and water and spread it out thinly on a griddle made from copper. Their efforts resulted in a crispy and light crepe that helped fill their stomachs and improve their morale during war.
The dish soon became popular off the battlefield, and generations of Chinese passed the recipe on to their families. When visiting China today, a person can find Chinese pancakes at restaurants in every metropolitan area even chefs preparing it on street corners.
The Chinese Pancake Has Made Its Way to America
It has only been in the last several years that diners could find Chinese pancakes in the United States. Since then, they have become especially popular in Southern California. Chefs in restaurants there experiment with different types of Chinese pancakes, such as using beef they have braised slowly instead of eggs, much to the delight of American taste buds. However, not everyone is convinced that the dish originated in China and claim that it must be a West Coast invention.
Typical Ingredients of a Chinese Pancake
Chefs who serve the slow-braised beef version of this delicacy typically include cilantro, cucumbers, and scallions, place them inside of the flattened pancake, and roll it up to serve in the style of an enchilada. They also make liberal use of oil during preparation.
Diners in Southern California especially appreciate that a Chinese pancake offers so many taste sensations at once. After all, it’s not every dish that can claim to be crunchy, savory, and salty at the same time. Some Americans alternatively refer to the Chinese pancake as a beef roll.
How to Eat a Chinese Pancake
Some people choose to hold a rolled-up Chinese pancake in their hand and eat it that way. Another option is to cut them in the shape of a wedge like pizza and allow guests to remove one piece at a time from a cooking pan and dip them in sauce for a different taste experience. Regardless of the preferred method of eating a Chinese pancake, it’s important to make sure that they have cooled down enough not to burn the mouth or hand of the person eating one.
Cooking Chinese Pancakes at Home
The first step in making this dish for guests is to grab a handful of scallions, scatter them across the dough, and add the cooking oil. It’s important to coat the dough with cooking oil rather than placing the batter in oil. The ingredients are now ready to fry. The cook can turn off the heat from the stove and allow the Chinese pancakes to cool once they are tender and golden brown.
The good news for anyone who doesn’t want to attempt home cooking of Chinese pancakes is that plenty of restaurants in Southern California, including Chili House San Francisco, serve them.