Recently I boldly and proudly went where I’d never gone before. I went on a date. By myself. With myself. It was self-imposed solitude, New York-style. A jaunt to my favorite bar, Henry Public, alone. To the bartender, I proudly declared, “just one, please.” I ordered a salad and a glass of the house red, oh, and a bowl of mayo-smothered fries because when I’m by myself, I can do whatever I want. Stuffed, I strolled over to an ice cream parlor where I continued eating for two, as if there were.
Because I’m an only child, I’m an experienced soloist. (I’m also kind of selfish, but we’ll save that for another day.) After dinner, I decided to watch a movie. Just me and ten other couples, in the dimly lit weekday oasis of the Cobble HIll Cinemas, soaking up culture. I took off my shoes immediately, unbuttoned my jeans (damn those mayo fries) and just let it–all of it–hang out. Best date ever.
Later, when my boyfriend and I spoke on the phone, I felt guilty. Like I was cheating on him. And I was–with myself.
While my solo date was fun, aloneness is not inherent to Chinese food culture. There’s a reason why round dining tables and Lazy Susans are commonly seen at Chinese restaurants. It’s because Chinese food is designed to be eaten communally. Even takeout is better shared. With more mouths, you can split the beef and broccoli, the chow mein, and string beans. You’ll still wake up the next day bloated, but not as bloated as you would be if you’d finished off a plate of kung pao chicken by yourself. Every meal ends up feeling like a banquet.
At Po-Po’s, there were at least five dishes every time, which meant it always took a group effort to finish the food. She loved the clamor of chopsticks, the clinking of plates, and most of all the company. My solo date would have seemed masochistic to her.
The other day, I had a craving for scallion pancakes, my go-to comfort food. I was ready for another solo date slam dunk. Armed with basic pantry items, I made the pancakes the way grandma used to make them. Same dough. Same onion-y filling. Same lightly-oiled pan so the pancake gets its perfected brown crust. I ended up making 4 hot crispy (but soft) disks.
After sinking my teeth into a crispy slice, I felt deeply unsatisfied. I felt alone. No clamor, no clinking, no company. The doughy triangle limply dangling from my chopsticks, reminding me that some things taste better when eaten with others. Such as Chinese food. Such as Po-Po’s scallion pancakes.
Scallion Pancakes 蔥油餅
Lard is the twist I added to grandma’s original recipe. Optional but I mean, come on. Also, this is an update to my recipe in Bon Appétit.
Makes 2 large pancakes or 4 small pancakes
2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 teaspoons kosher salt
3 teaspoons Asian sesame oil
2 tablespoons lard
2 teaspoons ground Sichuan peppercorns
1.5 cups minced green onions
3 tablespoons peanut oil, divided
Sprinkle a work surface generously with flour. Place 2 cups flour in a large bowl. Add 1 cup hot water and blend until dough forms (dough will be sticky). Transfer dough to work surface; divide in half.
Shape each dough half into a smooth ball; flatten each to a 6" disk. Sprinkle each with 1 tsp. salt, then drizzle each with 1½ tsp. sesame oil. Press and smear salt and oil into tops of disks. Sprinkle each disk with ½ tsp. peppercorns, then ½ cup green onions; press into surface of dough. Roll up each disk into a log and seal ends. Roll out each log to a 10"-long rope. Shape into a coil, then a ball.
Sprinkling with flour as needed, roll out each ball of dough to a ¼"-thick round, 8–9" in diameter.
Do Ahead: Dough can be made 1 day ahead. Enclose each dough round in plastic wrap and chill.
Heat 1½ Tbsp. peanut oil in a large skillet over medium. Add 1 pancake to skillet. Cook until bottom is brown and crisp, 3–5 minutes. Turn pancake over. Cook until bottom is brown and crisp, 3–5 minutes more. Transfer to a cutting board. Repeat with remaining peanut oil and second pancake. Cut warm pancakes into wedges and serve with reserved dipping sauce.