If you’re not familiar with them, green onion cakes are savory, pan fried flatbreads with a crispy exterior and a chewy interior filled with scallions, much like you’d spread cinnamon-sugar over dough for cinnamon buns, then rolling, twisting and squishing.
The scallion pancake has been around for so long, that like many other foods, its origins have passed into myth, folklore, and guesswork. It’s hard to tell where it was first created, but many of these tales point to Shanghai in northeastern China; at least, this is the most commonly accepted theory behind its creation. Shanghai has a large and diverse population, mainly of people who aren’t Chinese, such as the Indians. The scallion pancake greatly resembles an Indian flatbread known as paratha.
The Edmonton-style green onion cake, a variant of the Chinese scallion pancake, was popularized by chef Siu To, seen as the forefather in our city, of this specialty. When Siu To opened a restaurant in 1979, he had only one ambition. The former construction worker, who immigrated to Edmonton from northern China four years earlier, simply wanted to cook and serve the homestyle Mandarin cuisine he so greatly missed. But Siu To had no idea that they would become the local specialty of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.
The cakes were initially not seen outside his restaurant because of the labor-intensive process behind them; they must be slowly pan fried to crisp the outside and maintain the chewy interior. Eventually, Siu To found himself being increasingly asked to prepare the cakes at festivals and the popularity skyrocketed. Two variations exist: one with a typical pancake shape, and the other with a hole in the middle.
Today, green onion cakes are synonymous with Edmonton. They’re requisite festival fare and are in dozens of local eateries. The cakes were showcased in a Royal Alberta Museum exhibit on prairie Chinese restaurants in 2013. Bloggers as far away as Halifax acknowledge the green onion cake’s status in Edmonton’s culinary culture.
It’s peculiar as to how a simple pan-fried dish made from little more than dough and green onions ever received this much attention in the first place.
Today, Brion & I are kicking it up a notch and having our city of Edmonton’s iconic green onion cakes in a ‘BT’ open face sandwich form. Lettuce is not really our favorite veg, so we opted to leave it off.