The Pancakes of Taiwan: An Introduction to the Wonderful World of Bings (餅s)

Photo Credit: Mayo Food

Flapjack lovers beware, we are laying down the gauntlet: Asia, and specifically Taiwan, has the best pancakes in the world.

Don’t believe us? Leave your bottle of syrup at home and get ready to meet your new, favorite, infinitely expanded, food group.

Although we’ve seen some news about how a staple of Taiwanese and Chinese street food is making it’s way around the world (see Condé Nast’s article about cheesy scallion pancakes in NYC), as representatives of western taste pallets living in Taiwan, we still can’t quite understand why bings (餅), or “pancakes” as they are translated, aren’t being sold around the world like, well, hotcakes.

When the foreigner in Taiwan or China inevitably first stumbles on a Cong You Bing (蔥油餅), or scallion pancake, the first response 9.99 times out of 10 is, “where has this been all of my life?!” AND “can I get another one??” Business-minded folks, we are telling you: these things would sell like crazy at sports games, fairs, shopping malls, airports, food truck stands, and beyond. This author has even contemplated having them served at his wedding.

To wet your appetite, thicken the proverbial batter, and make things a little more interesting, you should know that when you try to dig into the history behind the wonderful and diverse pancakes of Asia, it gets murky, even contentious, quickly. Some think these fried delicacies came from Shanghai, others suspect Beijing or further north. Some have proposed the western reaches of China while other culinary detectives have made comparisons with naan or chapatti out of India. There’s even a legend that Marco Polo came up with pizza while trying to recreate the scallion pancakes he tasted in China. But we’re not going to wade into these waters and try to tag the historical origin of the 餅. No, we are mere devotees, acolytes here to worship at the alter of the holy grail of griddle cakes, and celebrate what can only be described as a pinnacle and delicacy of Taiwanese street cuisine.

We have below given you a list of five different 餅’s or pancakes that you should make sure to try while you are in Taiwan. Keep in mind, however, that this is only the edge of the frying pan. There are many other variations out there! Mainland China and other countries in Asia have other types as well as their own twists on these recipes. Bring your appetite and try to savor them. 慢慢吃!

Cong You Bing (蔥油餅)

The Pancakes of Taiwan: An Introduction to the Wonderful World of Bings (餅s) 1
Photo Credit: Gastro Gays

The Cong You Bing (蔥油餅) is the classic, the versatile, the scallion infused, savory and salty flat bread. It can stand on its own, be chopped up and consumed with some dipping sauce, or, as many venders in Taiwan will sometimes do, be combined with egg, bacon, basil, and sometime more in the form of a folded sandwich. The right consistency is going to be just slightly crispy with just a slight doughy pull in each bite. The wise purveyors will add a little bit of sweetened soy sauce and the a dash of spice to compliment the fried, salty, scallion flavor. More than one expat has been known to eat them as a stand alone meal for a week straight. Locals enjoy them even more. Bring on the cong you bings.

Cong Zhua Bing (蔥抓餅)

The Pancakes of Taiwan: An Introduction to the Wonderful World of Bings (餅s) 2
Photo Credit: Kevin Walkover

If the Cong You Bing (蔥油餅) is the traditional pancake, then the Cong Zhua Bing (蔥抓餅) is the crêpe. The difference is subtle, but to the discerning culinary connoisseur, it is noticeable. The difference is also apparent in their respective names. Cong You Bing (蔥油餅) translates to “scallion oil pancake,” while the Cong Zhua Bing (蔥抓餅) translates roughly to “scallion pulled or grasped Pancake.” Flavor-wise they are nearly identical, however, the Cong Zhua Bing will generally be slightly flakier or fluffier, almost like a croissant. While the Cong You Bing comes in carrying sizes and forms, the Cong Zhua Bing will almost always be circular, plate sized and able to be combined with a fried egg or other ingredients the vendor has on hand.

Shao Bing (燒餅)

The Pancakes of Taiwan: An Introduction to the Wonderful World of Bings (餅s) 3
Photo Credit: The Travel Intern

Shaobings are thought to be traditionally from northern China, however, it is not uncommon to find them around Taiwan and other parts of China as well. They typically are round or pain au chocolate shaped, and baked with sesame seeds on top. Normally you will find them filled with savory (meat) or sweet (sometimes red bean paste). Think a little like an empanada crossed with a sesame seed bagel and you’ll be in the approximate ballpark. While there is no incorrect time to eat them, often shao bings are found as breakfast food. They are not generally as sought after by foreigners looking for meals in the “bing category,” however, we would be remiss if we did not include them here. A good rule of thumb when ordering is to always order one more than you expect you’ll want. Often, always, you will find room.

Ji Dan Gao (雞蛋糕

The Pancakes of Taiwan: An Introduction to the Wonderful World of Bings (餅s) 4
Photo Credit: Feudal

Okay contrarian American pancake traditionalists, this one is for you simply because we can hear you frothing at the mouth with the impending comment, “but those other bings aren’t ‘true‘ pancakes!” Meet the Ji Dan Gao, the egg cake / sponge cake that is a staple of most Taiwanese night markets. When you discover them don’t blame us if you inhale them by the dozen. And the best part? The recipe for the batter is almost identical to the American pancake. Think 3D mini waffles in cooler shapes. You’re welcome.

Tong Luo Shao (銅鑼焼)

The Pancakes of Taiwan: An Introduction to the Wonderful World of Bings (餅s) 5
Photo Credit: Qmart Asian Grocery

They say it’s important to save the best for last. As such, meet Taiwan’s “Icy Pancake.” In various ice cream coolers around the country there resides this wonderfully retro-packaged ice cream sandwich that is the creme de la creme and the hidden gem of frozen desserts. If the name itself is not enough reason to love it, the pancake is slightly spongy, sometimes freezer burnt, and the ice cream not overly great in quality but the two come together with a culmination that is somehow far greater than the sum of its individual parts. It’s like a whoopie pie in frozen form. Quite simply, the Tong Luo Shan is the guilty pleasure that feeds one’s inner child.

As aspiring business-minded entrepreneurs, we yet again cannot understand why this product is not a global sensation. It is basically a premade Japanese Dorayaki or ice cream pancake. To make things even more curious, IMEI the company that creates them was founded in 1934 and is very well known within Taiwan. Hostess could only wish for such a recipe!

Final Thoughts

We’ve laid out our arguments and given you some of the greatest versions of the “pancake” that Taiwan has to offer. All that’s left is to test them against your palate. And here comes the best part: while there are physical businesses that have their own stall or building in Taiwan, some of the best bings (餅) are found at mobile, semi-nomadic food stands. They are cooked on wheel-able carts that are found on certain city corners, but which can move just as easily as the weather. Encountering one is sometimes like stumbling onto an easter egg. You can and should search on Google Maps for bings in your city in Taiwan, however, it is sometimes far better to ask a local or simply wander until you discover one of these stands on your own. We wish you luck and a great appetite in your quest.


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