Hungry Still: Scallion Pancakes

In these times of uncertainty, despite the chaos surrounding grocery shopping in a raging pandemic, we find ourselves… hungry still. Sometimes-ASMR, sometimes-experimental-food, this series pairs a memory with a recipe. Ingredients may be substituted—you know how it goes these days—and methods may be adapted, but the story behind them lives on.

Today’s Hungry Still dish is one of the few things authentic to Taiwan nights that, despite having grown up in the Midwest, I can readily eat. Like most of the best memory foods, scallion pancakes are made on an economy of means with the raw basics—flour, water, oil and scallions — making it instantaneous, accessible, transportive and timeless. A thin layer of caramelized spirals on the outside—crunch—opens up to steamy, soft layers on the inside. Cut it up like a pizza or tear it open with your fingers.

I know this flavor in an intuitive way; how its simplicity persevered despite the odds against it in the late 90s in our suburban household: the lack of internet and recipes ready for consumers to share and reshare, a community completely unfamiliar with this type of “ethnic” foods (though that would quickly change in the following years as Asian cuisine skyrocketed in popularity beyond Chinese take-outs and buffets) and, most notably, the sparseness of where we lived on one side of a countryside highway across from which land primed for development lay empty of people. There is so much meaning packed in a single bite that, even twenty some years later, it still reminds me, as some faded photographs do, of resilience and happiness present in a time of limitation and constraint.

My new Midwest home was so different from what was across the great Pacific—that is, Taiwan’s now-famous cultural scene—Instagrammable, YouTube-viral and filled with urban energy. Growing up, when I told others where I moved from, people asked, “Where? You mean Thailand?” Nobody would ask me that today, a time in which nearly everybody has heard of the little island that is not only efficiently handling the pandemic on its soil but also producing enough masks for a global supply, all the while holding dearly onto its democratic independence from the red dragon looming a short 110 miles across the Taiwan Strait. And especially these days, this cultural food item that can be found in nearly every night market across Taiwan has taken on a new and powerful dimension. 

After I left home, the first time I made scallion pancakes on my own was in my third year of college. I was sharing a small studio flat with a classmate in the third arrondissement of Paris, on a street where there were many Chinese-Parisians selling handbags and even pulled noodles. They weren’t fresh immigrants, I mean, certainly not travelers like me; they were real Parisians. But seeing them made me feel inexplicably nostalgic. A few staircases up, there I was, making my version of a make-do scallion pancake with a wine bottle for a rolling pin. Do what you can with limited means when in a foreign place—I learned that firsthand. 

There are many versions to the recipe, and I present just one today. Some Taiwanese countryside oba-sans with memories from the Japanese occupation would tell you to roll it one way; the vendor at the night market might fry it another way. Some use the hot dough method; others swear by yeast. Mainlanders may enjoy it with an additional sprinkle of five spice; the Taiwanese prefer it without. You’ll know with a simple Google search just how versatile and cross-cultural this kind of flaky flatbread is. When done right, this dish has transcended place and time for me. Whether eaten piping hot while wandering the streets or as a midnight snack for a family of four who just don’t feel like sleeping by bedtime, its simplicity makes for a deeply embedded and almost thoughtless memory that signals as much resilience as it does comfort food.

Scallion Pancakes

Recipe (6 large or 12 small pancakes) 

2 cups all purpose flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
~ 3/4 -1 cup boiling water
5 tbsp sesame oil

5 tbsp sesame oil (canola also works)
½ tsp salt
5 green onions (scallions)
2 tbsp all purpose flour


  1. In a mixing bowl, pour in the flour. Stir in boiling hot water into the flour slowly with a wooden spoon until a shaggy dough forms. Add 1-2 tbsp of water if flour doesn’t all come together. 
  2. Knead about 5-8 minutes into a soft, smooth ball. It should be slightly tacky.
  3. Rest covered in oiled bowl for 30-45 min. 
  4. Meanwhile make scallion filling by combining salt, scallion, sesame oil and flour – mix to form a paste. 
  5. Flatten dough, and roll out into large rectangle as thin as possible
  6. Brush mixture evenly and sparsely, covering the dough surface entirely 
  7. Fold the long way by bringing one side in, then the other side, like a letter.
  8. Fold the short way by bring one side in, then the other side, to make a package. 
  9. Rest for 10 min 
  10. Roll out evenly one more time as thin as possible in a large rectangle
  11. Roll tightly into one long jelly roll using the long side
  12. Cut roll into 1 inch disks. 
  13. On floured surface, flatten each disk to about ¼ inch thick.  
  14. Prepare pan with hot canola oil for frying. Pan fry scallion pancake on one side til golden brown (should be 2-3 minutes). Then flip it and cook with lid on for 3-5 minutes, the steam will cook the inside. 
  15. When ready, cut like a pizza into triangles, or tear with your fingers. Enjoy. You might want to try it with a common sauce for dipping composed of chopped garlic, black vinegar, soy sauce, sugar. 


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