Flaky, chewy and savoury, these moreish pastries are flat and circular but their resemblance to a Western pancake ends there. The spring onions, which go by the name “shallots” in some parts of Australia (and “scallions” in the United States), are not a filling—instead, they’re embedded in the dough.
Today you’ll find spring onion pancakes anywhere in the world where people cook northern Chinese food but until about the 1990s they were seldom seen in Australia. This is perhaps because until then, the great majority of Australian Chinese restaurants had their roots in the Cantonese culinary tradition of the south; and possibly also because spring onion pancakes are traditionally street food, sold from stalls at any time of day but especially popular in the mornings.
I first fell for them during a childhood holiday in Hong Kong, and was greedily thrilled to find them again when tea entrepreneur David Zhou opened his eponymous Melbourne restaurant in 1999. In the years since they’ve become
a staple entree at yum cha and northern Chinese restaurants, as well as at places serving Taiwanese-influenced food. They are so popular that Asian grocery stores carry their own ready-made versions—you’ll usually find them in the freezer cabinet—but the best places make their own from scratch.
There’s quite a bit of rolling and coiling in this exercise, so unless you’re a naturally crafty type you’re likely to feel a bit as if you’re a Playschool presenter working with play dough. Persist: the results make a great pass-around party opener for an Asian-themed meal coupled with Lesley Russell’s zesty dipping sauce. By all means hand them around, cut into wedges, as each one comes out of the pan; or preheat your oven to a low heat to keep your first cooked pancakes warm while you’re frying the rest; have some paper towel handy to separate the layers of pancakes to keep that lovely flakiness.
- Cut off and discard the root section of the spring onions. Remove the darkest green parts of the upper leaves. Thinly slice the spring onions crossways to form circles and set aside, reserving 1 tablespoon of the chopped circles for the dipping sauce.
- Weigh the flour, salt and water into the mixing bowl. Knead/1 minute.
- Tip the dough out on to a work surface and knead together. Form the dough into a roll and divide into 6 even pieces.
- Roll one piece out to a circular shape about 20 centimetres diameter. Don’t worry if the shape is a bit weird, it won’t matter much but make sure it is nice and thin (photo 1).
- Brush the dough with a little sesame oil and scatter with spring onions—allowing basically 1½ spring onions per pancake (photo 2).
- Roll the dough up, Swiss-roll style, then coil it around into a spiral (photo 3).
- Flatten the spiral and then roll it out again to form a circle of about 14 centimetres diameter, concentrating your rolling in the centre rather than the outer edges; it helps with the flaking. Don’t worry if the dough breaks a little and the spring onions poke through; they’ll be fine.
- Repeat with the remaining 5 pieces of dough.
- Place a heavy based, non-stick frying pan on a medium heat. Once the pan is hot, brush the pancakes with more sesame oil and cook them oil-side-down until lightly browned and cooked through. Flip the pancakes and cook on the other side.
- Serve the hot pancakes cut into wedges. Scatter them with flake salt and serve the dipping sauce on the side.
For the Dipping Sauce
- Combine all the ingredients and allow them to stand so the sugar dissolves.
AND … if you plan to make this recipe again and find yourself at an Asian grocer in the meantime, buy a bunch of flat-leafed garlic chives; they make a delicious addition to (or variation on) the spring onions. While you’re at the store, grab a bottle of black vinegar; you can mix it half-and-half with soy to make a super-quick alternative dipping sauce, and it’s handy to have around for next time you need a dipper for dumplings.