I wake up on a weekend and we’re out of bread again. This was pretty much a weekly predicament growing up. The loaf my parents bought on our weekly big shop normally ran out on Friday. However, rather than simply pop out to buy more or choose a larger loaf, they always made spring onion pancakes as the backup breakfast. This was our inadvertent, unspoken tradition and a sure way to lure my reluctant teenage self out of bed.
If you’re picturing the super crispy, flaky, layered pancakes that have reached mainstream popularity, this is not that (although those do hold a special place in my heart). Instead, think softer, thinner and almost crêpe-like pancakes. Regardless of how frequently they were made, the consistency varied massively depending on how heavy-handed my parents were as they added water to the rest of the ingredients directly from the tap to make the batter. Bold move, I know.
In addition to water, there are three main components: egg, flour and spring onions. There is no measuring of course. No matter how hard you rummage through my parent’s kitchen drawers, you will not discover measuring cups or spoons. I was taught to just use my senses, “差不多” chà bù duō (about right) being the guiding approach. As such, you’ll find no precise recipe here. Rather, a method you can tweak and tailor depending on your preferences and what you have at hand. For example, my mum puts in a spoonful of margarine/butter. I’m pretty sure she only started adding this when we moved from China to the UK. I can’t say I know why exactly, but it stuck.
Making the pancake is simple enough (in theory): get the hob on, drizzle of oil and batter in. However, if you don’t hear that little sizzle when it hits the pan, you’ll know the pan wasn’t hot enough and you jumped the gun. Do not fret. You should just accept the curse of the first sacrificial pancake. Through trial and error - and a pinch of luck - you’ll get a respectable stack. The key is to always aim for a bit of crisp and colour on both sides. And don’t be too hasty to throw out the first. Taste it, check for salt and adjust if necessary. My mum preferred to under season as it can be balanced with condiments such as 榨菜 (pickled mustard stem) or my favourite, a spread of豆腐乳 (spicy fermented tofu). Next, you can take a leaf out of father Pan’s book - roll the whole thing up, lift with your chopsticks and munch.
You might find that you’ve ended up with an extra pancake or two from your eyeballing. It can easily be repurposed into a wrap of sorts. My mum has gone so far as to cut leftovers into random rectangles and use it to bulk out egg and tomato soup. It’s a wonder how far it’ll stretch and moments like that remind me my parents experienced rationing during their childhood and that every morsel is precious.
Food is ultimately my parent’s love language. And it’s one they made sure I grew up fluent in. Whilst the four-letter word wasn’t uttered very often in our house growing up, simple acts such as putting out sliced fruit on the table and whipping up pancakes was their way of expressing it. This dish isn’t anything fancy but it is convenient, quick and tasty - one I return to all these years later in my own kitchen. When I’m craving comfort, eggs, flour and spring onions are what I find myself reaching for.
My childhood Chinese nickname was 葱葱which literally translates to spring onion. I guess my parents really rated the versatile, humble vegetable. Also, my surname is Pan. I have yet to find food with ‘pan’ in its name that I do not like
I later introduced a £5 plastic Argos scale into the house when I dabbled with baking. It’s fair to say they never touched it
My mum used to buy I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter. I grew up thinking this was butter (I blame poor attention to detail). I also had to break it to my mum a couple of years ago it’s not actually butter. I’m not sure she’s recovered
Over seasoned? Add more flour and water