Aside from the dishes we are most known for, like our famous Peking Duck and Dim Sum, here at Chili House we strive to serve the widest range of authentic Chinese dishes. One of our personal favorites happens to be our delicious Beef Pancakes, a take on one of China’s most popular treats. Today we are going to take a look at the history of this storied delicacy and how it came to prominence.
The 3rd Century Origins of Chinese Pancakes
The snack, similar to what is known in China as “Jianbing,” traces its roots all the way back to the Shandong Province during the Three Kingdoms Period (220 – 280 AD). Legend has it that Zhuge Liang, the chancellor of the state of Shu Han, was struggling to find an effective way to feed his soldiers who had lost their cooking supplies during battle. As a result, Liang had cooks concoct a mixture of water and wheat flour to be cook thinly and evenly across copper-made griddles (and sometimes even using the soldiers shields as a cooking surface). The result was a light, crispy crepe that helps sustain and boost the morale of the soldiers on the battlefield.
The dish proved popular beyond the battlefield, later getting passed down across generations. Today, Chinese pancakes can be found cooking on street corners in every major metropolitan neighborhood across China. The recipe is quite simple. Start by layering and folding the wheat and bean flour pancake fries, eggs, scallions and cilantro. Finally, add chili paste, hoisin sauce and lettuce to taste. Then fold the pastry a few more times for easy eating on the go.
To say the least, Chinese pancakes have become the quintessential snack food in China. Every afternoon, they satisfy hungry workers and students across China. In contrast to popular American street fare, Chinese pancakes are anything but fast food. Every one is cooked fresh to order, meaning there is always a line at the local vendor. In fact, many plan their commute to work around setting aside enough time to grab one!
America’s Discovery of Chinese Pancakes
Up until recently one would have trouble locating the snack outside of China and Taiwan. However the popularity and reach of Chinese Pancakes grows every year. Today, people across the US work to recreate the snack they fell in love with in China. One of the most popular variations (and one that has proved quite popular with our customers as well!) are Chinese pancakes with beef . It is quite similar to the traditional recipe, the only difference being the use of slow-braised beef instead of egg. This variation is popular in Taiwan, and has found a strong following in Southern California in recent years.
Chinese pancakes are perfect for those looking to add another Chinese culinary icon to their list of favorite dishes. We suggest searching your area for restaurants and seek out all the different variations available. Don’t forget to stop in and try the absolutely delicious Chinese beef pancakes at Chili House SF as well!
(Originally published in July of 2016 – Updated in March of 2019)