Hola! I was just in Mexico City, where I was met with an unexpected chill in the air, skies and clouds for days, and a city that extended far past what I could see from the 28th floor of my hotel.

La gente spoke less English that I expected, so I was forced to pull deep into the trenches of my brain back to Caminos Peligrosos in the 10th grade, and managed to squeak by with my present-tense-only Spanglish.

But I accomplished what I had gone to Mexico do to: Eat plenty of tacos, climb a pyramid, witness the beautiful ugliness that is the “Mexican truffle“, and watch my best friend get married. Not a bad checklist.

oh my.

I know I’ve been behind, but i’m going to Mexico City tomorrow so blogging will once again be sparse!

I keep thinking when I get back to China- how different the markets will be. In the meantime, time to check out some awesome Mercados.

Down to the grind

It’s no secret that I love pork. So, consider it lucky that I’m in a country where pork is abundant, featured, and everywhere. In Chinese, when you ask for meat on a menu, the servers will generally point out the pork section. Vegetarians beware- asking for ‘no meat’ will generally give you servings of chicken, fish, and sometimes even beef or lamb. To us, it’s crazy. To them, it’s annoying because you didn’t specify.

Luckily my stomach is able to handle anything that has been thrown my way. Some friends here aren’t so lucky. To them, it’s a gamble ordering anything on a menu, and meat especially. It’s something always in the back of my mind while I shop for meat in China- which is why I don’t do it too often. I veer away from seafood completely (with the exception of one salmon stand), but for some reason I’m not as hesitant when it comes to pork. With all the food scares circulating in the media, I’m not sure who to trust, and in fact I doubt the big supermarket chains just as much as I doubt the small individual stands at the wet market.

Smaller is better? Probably a myth engrained in my head from farmers’ market shopping in the states, I actually don’t know how much weight that carries in a country such as China.

In all my trips around the markets, I’ve seen cuts of meat laid out for display- shoulders, loins, ribs, trotters, even whole pigs’ heads, affirming three things. First, that the Chinese love their pork. Second, that health inspection is a completely different beast in this Country. Third, they really do eat everything down here in the South. Hearts, intestines, livers, weird things I’m unable to distinguish- they’re all out too. But wait, what about ground pork, how do I get that stuff?

What about those little green trays with square patties of ground meat wrapped in plastic? Completely non-existant. But here is where the art of the Butcher enters. Here is where the cleavers and the wooden blocks and the hooks come flying in. This is what it’s been like around the world for centuries, in the agoras of Greece and the markets of Italy. It’s where the modern-day butchering trend in the states likes to be, without the tattooed rock star butchers, the constant nagging of the FDA, and the gleamy sparkly facades and logos that new butchers market themselves with.

If you want pork skin, you get it. If you want a rack of ribs, you get it (as long as you get to the stand before they hack it all up to pieces). If you want ground pork, you just ask. Ground pork is meant to be a balance of lean meat and fatty meat, with a grind size appropriate to your dish. It’s meant to be fresh, a raw peachy-pink color swirled with speckles of white. Certainly not red, brown, or anything in between. I’ve learned all this very recently, in being asked how I want my meat, and seeing it handed over to me in a simple plastic bag. A plastic bag that isn’t even tied up unless I do it myself. I really have so much to learn around here.

Scallion Pancakes

Remember awhile ago- before I left Taiwan, actually- I noticed spring green onions stacked en masse at my favorite vendor’s stand at the wet market?

Green onions, or scallions, are a year-round staple around here, but vary from season to season in their size, shape, onion flavor and even green-ness. There are usually a few varieties of scallions out on display, ranging from small wispy mild miniature scallion onions to larger, tougher and leafier ones more akin to a leek than scallion. Spring and summer has brought about piles of greener and more fragrant scallions. Unable to resist, I needed to find something to do with such a lovely ingredient.

I’m starting to realize the popularity of most Chinese dishes stems not simply from good taste and generations of kitchen tricks, but also from available resources. The Chinese have great knowledge of what their different regions are capable of producing, and no better way can it be seen than on a menu. So, in line with tradition and tastiness, what better way to feature scallions than in the form of a savory, springy fried pancake! These pancakes are always a crowd pleaser, and most certainly among my American friends, come tied in first along with Chiarsu (roast pork) buns and fried noodles. Though a tasty and globally appealing appetizer today, the scallion pancake has humble roots. After all, flour, water, salt and scallions is not exactly food for the gods. My gods, maybe- but not all gods.

By doing a bit of research, I came to find that what I originally assumed to be a painstakingly difficult process couldn’t be any easier. And with so few ingredients, it was hard to get wrong. Granted, Kenji over at Serious Eats had already paved the way and tested the waters (literally) with this article, so all I had to do was use his advice and his basic recipe to get a tasty result.

So what ancient Chinese secret did I learn? I’d say that would be using hot, boiling water in the dough. The varied temperature of the water does something very scientific within the proteins of the dough- something that I’m unable to completely understand. What I did understand was the drastic difference in this dough versus a, say, bagel or pizza dough. This pancake dough was a firmer, denser, and smoother ball of dough, easy to knead and roll. Though the springiness of other yeasty doughs was missing, it did still had a decent level of firm elasticity that was quite pliable. This dough also came together in just a few short minutes- no need to spend 15 grueling minutes kneading like you do with bagels. The Chinese are genius!

I thought back to all the best scallion pancakes I have eaten, which were always crispy on the outside- golden brown and fried in a nutty vegetable oil, and flaky and chewy in the middle. Scallion pancakes have the unnatural ability to be dense yet fluffy at the same time- and if you’ve ever eaten one you’ll know exactly what I mean.

And that was exactly the reason I assumed it would be difficult to create the scallion pancake. How could something have layers, be dense and chewy and flaky all at once? Was the golden pan fried crispiness really that easy? I was nervous. What if this white pasty ball of non-elastic dough sitting in front of me was a total flop?

But, as with any other bread or cake or pastry, I reminded myself that all I had to do was follow directions. Scanning the recipe from beginning to end a few times, I realized it was a simple process masked in a confusion of scallions and flaky layers. All this recipe required was a simple attention to certain detail. Unlike all other layered pastries, there wasn’t too much of an emphasis on the temperature of the fat particles rolled in nor the amount of layers (like cold butter in pie crusts), nor the counting and reiteration of layer upon layer. After all, you’re creating a flat pancake, not a puffed croissant.  And although I imagine the scallion pancake would indeed be dreamy with dozens thin and flaky layers straddled in between the golden fried outside, it’s been proven the dough doesn’t lend itself well to that process.

Remembering that I was working with a warm dough on my hands, I got to work. One recipe’s amount makes two pancakes, so after dividing the dough in half, each is rolled into a perfect ball and flattened out into a thin pizza-like disc. After spreading a generous drizzle of toasted sesame oil, the dough gets rolled up into a log, then curled up in the shape of a snail. Tuck the end of the log firmly in place to the bottom, and flatten the snail-shaped curl. Here is where you create your first layers. This gets rolled out, again, into a thin pizza-like patty. Success! My first scallion pancake-making adventure was blossoming before my eyes.

In an attempt to squeeze more green onions into the pancake than I thought the original recipe did, I pre-mixed double the green onions along with salt and sesame oil in a separate bowl, to form the filling for the next layer. In my head, this bright green, salty, oily macerated paste would fare better in flavor than simply a scattering of scallions.

I realized why recipes were needed, as soon as I began to roll up the pancake. The premixed green onions and salt mixture had already started to generate far more water than I knew scallions were able to retain. As I rolled the pancake up, the green filling began to ooze out and the oily mixture made it difficult for my dough to stick to itself. As you can see below, my pancake turned out to be more of an O than a solid flat pancake.

I tried it again, this time applying the sesame oil, green onions, and salt individually. It was still slippery and messy, but much easier to control. Hm, recipe directions work- who would’ve thought.

This recipe, through a bit of trial and error, turns out to be something I’m loving in my back pocket. I can’t imagine of a simpler, tastier fare that highlights such a simple ingredient. Something that is year-round, at that.

Scallion Pancakes


  • 1 cup AP flour (plus more for dusting)
  • 1/2 cup Boiling Water
  • up to 1/4 cup toasted sesame oil
  • 1 1/2 cup thinly sliced scallions- greens only
  • 4 tsp. kosher salt
  • 1/8 cup veg oil, to cook


  1. Put flour in a large bowl. Stir with a wooden spoon as you add 3/4 of the boiling water. Assess how it is coming together, making sure the dough is not sticky, and add the remaining water slowly.
  2. Turn the flour and water onto a floured surface. Knead for about 5 minutes, or until satiny and smooth.
  3. Transfer to a clean bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and let it rest for 30 minutes in an oven that is off.
  4. Divide the dough into half, and roll each into a smooth ball. Cover one ball with a towel or plastic wrap. Working with the other ball, roll into a disc approximately 8 or 9 inches in diameter on a floured surface. Brush a thin layer of sesame oil on top.
  5. Roll up into a cigar-like log, then twist into a snail-like spiral. Tuck the end of the spiral tightly underneath, pinching slightly if necessary. Flatten this snail gently with the palm of your hand. Then re-roll into a thin 8 or 9 inch disc again.
  6. Brush another layer of sesame oil onto the disc. Sprinkly 3/4 cups scallion greens and about 2 tsp. salt, leaving about a 1/2 inch rim free around the edges. Roll up again, using slightly more caution this time to make sure not too much of the scallions splurt out of the edges. The scallions will want to poke out of the roll, as long as they don’t tear too much it should be all right. Twist into a spiral, tucking the ends underneath as you did before.
  7. Very carefully, use a rolling pin to roll out the dough with the scallions into a thin 7-inch disc. The scallions will want to poke out again, but simply pat them back in with your fingers. It will be rather oily, so there is no need for a floured surface.
  8. (repeat with your other ball of dough)
  9. In a nonstick skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Set the pancake in the oil to cook, shaking the pan periodically until the one side is golden brown- about two minutes. Carefully flip, using tongs or a spatula if you need help. There will still be some oil in the pan, so take caution. Cook on the other side the same way, for about another 2 minutes or until golden brown as well.
  10. Transfer to a cooling rack lined with a paper towel to cool.
  11. After a couple of minutes (not too long, just enough for the oil to dry a little), cut into 6 wedges. Serve immediately.


When I first moved to China, I thought that the pile of eggs stacked so neatly at the wet markets looked so naked without their egg crate packaging. Bringing home eggs in a small plastic baggie?! The idea seemed so outrageous, so crazy. What happened if they BROKE?!

But like many other things, the sights and sounds that were once so foreign and shocking are now a part of my daily life- a daily life that I have expectation of now, yearnings for, even. I am going back to the states for a couple of weeks in August, and have a feeling that reverse culture shock might take place. As insane as it may sound, I love the dirty alleyways, the open-air meat markets, the couples yelling on the subway, and the pushing and shoving in lines. Okay, maybe not that last one.

Most of all, I love my markets. I love the chicken lady who knows I usually buy whole chickens cut into quarters, the lady I buy most of my greens from and tells me what’s best to buy, I love the mangosteens and dragonfruit and huge watermelons that are piled on the fruitstands, I love having to walk to my local wet market every other day if I choose to cook, I love circling the vegetable stalls two or three times before I decide on what to lay my hands on. I even love having to run from store to store to store to find something as simple as AP flour.

At my local market, picking out a dozen eggs

And even though I don’t love to eat eggs, I love buying them. In fact, my newfound love of egg purchasing has almost gotten me to turn the corner as far as eating them. At the wet markets in China, egg vendors set up with mounds of egg pyramids piled layers deep- chicken eggs, duck eggs, salted eggs, large goose eggs. Of course the chicken egg pyramids are piled the highest, and though there are often more than one variety of chicken eggs, I do what I do in China when I have no idea what my choices actually are- just choose something in between. So I usually buy the chicken eggs that are in the middle, both in terms of price as well as color and size.

Now, all egg vendors also have a small ledge with holes in front of their stand, as if it were a ring toss booth at a county fair. Choose your eggs, flip on a switch under the ledge by your hips and a light bulb turns on inside the hold. Each egg can then be placed over the hole and examined to make sure there are no unlaid embryos looming within. It’s quite a meditative process to me now, carefully selecting each egg and setting them aglow to examine them.

Buying a dozen white eggs in their cartons from the supermarket now seems like a concept so wasteful, so removed, so forced. Sure there’s plenty of things that I miss about “home”, but like I said I’m getting used to how things are done around here- and some things really aren’t that bad at all.