Even in the sweltering heat of a Taipei summer, I craved the warmth of a Taiwanese breakfast every morning. Just a few simple ingredients– soybeans and flour– form the basis of a satisfying and comforting breakfast. This style of breakfast– soy milk (dou jiang) served with scallion pancakes (cong yu bing), egg-filled pancakes (dan bing), steamed buns (man tou), and fried dough (yu tiao)– traces its origins to Northern China. Taipei’s Yonghe neighborhood is best known for its soy milk, with an original store opened in 1955. That store has now become a chain that has proliferated around the city. One branch is literally across the street from my parents’ apartment, so we lucked out.
This branch is open 24 hours, like many eateries in Taipei, and run by a young and cheerful couple who seemed to be there whenever I passed by. I couldn’t imagine how uncomfortable they felt spending all of their time in front of a hot griddle, cooled only by an electric fan. I felt uncomfortably hot just standing and watching them work quickly to prepare pancakes to order, deftly turning them out within minutes. I usually got my soy milk hot, but it’s equally good on ice, lightly sweetened.
Unlike a lot of Taiwanese food, my favorite part of this breakfast, scallion pancakes, is widely available in the US. They are even available frozen in Asian groceries here in the US, and they’re pretty good. Soy milk, too, is easily found both in Asian groceries and in a Westernized version in regular groceries (though I can’t stand that vanilla and chocolate-flavored stuff that my kids adore). I’m lucky that I can literally walk down the street and recreate my Taipei breakfasts at home in San Francisco (minus the heat and humidity!) Recently though, overcome by ongoing desire to master cooking the food I love from Taiwan, I decided to make my own Taiwanese breakfast of scallion pancakes and hand-pressed soy milk.
I was pleased with the results. It is somewhat time-consuming to prepare both the soy milk and the scallion pancakes, but the recipes are simple. My version of the pancakes is a bit different from how they’re usually made because I used white whole wheat flour instead of regular white all-purpose flour. I did this because I’ve been trying to cook only whole grains in my kitchen, and I found a brand I really love (King Arthur Flour). The result is somewhat heartier than the standard pancakes, with a pleasant nutty taste. I joked that after making whole wheat scallion pancakes and pressing my own soy milk at home, it was as if I lived in a Taiwanese co-op. (Who’s on kitchen duty on the chore wheel?) Feel free to use regular all-purpose flour if you prefer the classic version.
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Scallion Pancakes (Cong Yu Bing)
2 cups white whole wheat all-purpose flour, plus extra for dusting work surface (you may substitute regular all-purpose flour)
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup sesame seed oil
2 cups thinly sliced scallion greens (about a bunch of scallions)
salt to taste
canola oil for frying
1. Pour flour into a mixing bowl, form a well in the center, and slowly pour in the boiling water. Stir with a spoon until all the flour is incorporated, then use your hands to gently knead the dough once it’s cool enough to handle. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rest for 30 minutes.
2. After the dough has rested, divide it into four balls and roll each ball out onto a lightly floured surface.
3. Use a brush to coat each dough round with sesame oil.
4. Scatter 1/4 of the sliced scallions onto each prepared round of dough. Sprinkle evenly with a few pinches of salt.
5. Roll up each round, like you’re rolling up a newspaper, as tightly as you can.
6. Next, take each roll and coil it into a snail shape.
7. Take each coil of dough and roll it flat again. This seals in the scallions and creates layers in the dough. (If you like, you can repeat steps 3 through 7 another round, to create even more layers. Serious Eats has a great tutorial on this.)
8. Warm a tablespoon of oil in a large frying pan over medium heat, then cook one pancake at a time, turning over when golden.
9. Serve warm along with a cup of soy milk.
Fresh Soy Milk
Makes: 2 quarts
1 cup dried soybeans
6 cups cold water, plus extra for soaking
1/4 cup sugar
1. Place soybeans into a large bowl and cover with cold water. Allow to soak for about 2 to 3 hours.
2. Drain and rinse soaked soybeans, and place 1/2 of them into the jar of a blender. Add 2 cups cold water and blend until smooth.
3. Skim off the foam and then pour into a cheesecloth lined fine mesh sieve over a large pot. Use a spoon to press on the slurry to extract the soy milk.
4. Once the liquid is all extracted, put the solids back into the blender with another cup of water a grind another time. Drain through the cheesecloth lined sieve and do another pressing, then squeeze out the remaining liquid through the cheesecloth. (You can reserve the remaining solids for composting or for adding hidden fiber into all kinds of baked goods, as my mom likes to do.)
5. Repeat above steps with the other half of soaked soybeans and water.
6. Once you’ve pressed all of the beans, you have raw soy milk in the pot. Bring to a boil and add sugar (adjust to taste), and simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring every few minutes. You may drink this hot or cold.
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This post is part of a series of posts on Taiwan and Taiwanese food. Related posts in this series:
And for more Taiwanese recipes: