08 Jun2016

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On our last day in Xian, Mrs. Marketman booked a private “food tour” with Ruixi of “The Lost Plate” tours. Mrs. MM did some internet research and scoured options and ended up with what turned out to be a fabulous choice. More on the tour later, straight onto our first stop after being picked up at our hotel in a “tuktuk”… About 10-15 minutes (slightly harrowing) drive later, nearing the Muslim quarter, we stopped at this nondescript roadside eatery, the first of several in a 3-hour tour. Don’t ask me for names, I couldn’t write it phonetically or copy the script if I was under fear of starvation. Suffice it so say this isn’t going to be too easy to find for a casual two-day tourist to the city.

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There was a a large lone “pancake” cooling out front, right beside a wood chopping board. But there were several more being made inside the store, and we watched intently as these utterly exquisite savory pancakes were made from scratch.

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First, an incredibly pliable dough (which at first I thought MUST be made with lard, but on second thought, near the Muslim quarter that seemed odd) was rolled out about 1/8th of an inch thick. Then ground beef was spread thinly over the dough, ground sichuan peppercorns and other spices sprinkled on and finally a generous pile of green onions or scallions were added. A mystery paste or sauce was spread on the other half of the dough (could this be some fat and ghee? No, maybe tallow with spices. They couldn’t say or wouldn’t say. :(

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Then they rolled up the pancake in a manner that kept the meat and veg in the middle and then there were several layers of dough with fat in between. Think of it as croissant dough made a totally different way really. The end result is an incredibly flaky and tasty outer dough enveloping all the savoring goodness within.

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It was utterly fascinating how pliable the dough was, and it stretched like you wouldn’t believe and never once ripped. The resulting buns looked like giant siopao’s and there was the heightened sense of anticipation as we realized we were going eat freshly made and cooked pancakes.

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The dough oozing with fat of undetermined nature.

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The pancakes put in a decades old press that cooks them from below and above. It took several minutes in this contraption and while it was oily, it wasn’t frying it oil…

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The result looked like a giant hopia with a browned flaky exterior that was slightly greasy but not overly so. It was roughly 6 inches in diameter and hefty in weight. I think these were about a dollar or so for one piece. You can buy half of one if there is someone else in the vicinity who will buy the other half. We split one between three people since we were planning on eating all morning.

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The pancake is cut into eight and served on a plate with a bunch of chopsticks.

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There are tons of variants on this pancake throughout Xian. Long You Bing is a green onion stuffed pancake. Xian bing is a beef pancake. But this one seemed to have both so I can’t be sure what they called it. Here’s a homemade one in case you are ambitious… And here’s a 25 second video of how they actually shape the pancake in this particular shop…

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Note the incredibly flaky pastry, the moist meat and veggies in the middle. Imagine the slight sting of sichuan peppercorns on your palate as you chew, and do this with your eyes closed as you reach the food equivalent of a climax. Yes, it was THAT GOOD. Hot, fresh, made in front of your eyes, cooked while you waited, and sliced and presented as you sat with heightened anticipation. All for a $1. And believe me, I could have eaten this whole pancake by myself. All of it. It was superb.

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Just 15 minutes at this stop and back into our tuktuk to the next food discovery. We could have only done this with a guide (preferably with wheels), and “The Lost Plate” was a very good choice. They have tried hundreds of vendors and selected the best, they spoke the local language and fluent English, and they allowed us to experience the maximum exposure in the minimum amount of time. It cost approximately $100 for the two of us. And that included all the dishes we consumed (which couldn’t have cost more than $10-15).

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Natie says:

    it looks very tasty, indeed! That tour is worth the price .

    Jun 8, 2016 | 10:53 am

     
  2. emsy says:

    I think the dough is just hot water, high gluten flour, vegetable/peanut oil (I’ve never encountered one made of tallow or lard even in non-Muslim areas), and salt. What really makes it that pliant is the flour. In supermarkets, they have “high gluten flour” that is recommended for dumplings and these crepes/pancakes. You can stretch it so much that it becomes translucent, much like the window pane test, albeit a very big window pane. The translucent but sturdy wrapper of xiao long bao or soup dumplings is made possible by this type of flour too. As for the mystery paste, it looks like yellow chili paste. But since they have so many versions of this snack, as you said, the ingredients vary from vendor to vendor and the mystery paste can just be this vendor’s “special sauce.” Most often though, the inside of the pancake is brushed with sesame oil, or a chili/garlic/black bean paste.

    Jun 8, 2016 | 12:27 pm

     
  3. Marketman says:

    emsy, thanks for that, more clues and better understanding of how it’s made. But there definitely was oil or lard or tallow or ghee between the layers, that’s what makes it so flaky in the end result. It practically shattered when cut…

    Jun 8, 2016 | 12:40 pm

     
  4. Betchay says:

    Looks yummy! But the bark of the chopping board caught my eye ? I wonder from what tree?

    Jun 8, 2016 | 1:13 pm

     
  5. Marketman says:

    Betchay, hmmm, good catch, now I am curious about the tree as well.

    Jun 8, 2016 | 1:20 pm

     
  6. emsy says:

    You’re right. I think I may have a good source for a proper recipe. I teach English part time and there’s this one student of mine, his grandma always serves me a bing, sometimes scallion, sometimes egg/beef and scallion, that she makes fresh while I am tutoring her grandson. It shatters, like you described. I think tomorrow is the day I finally take up her offer to teach me how! :)

    Jun 8, 2016 | 1:35 pm

     
  7. Marketman says:

    emsy, please pass on method, I would love to try my hand at this soon… I was thinking of stuffing it with lechon sisig! :)

    Jun 8, 2016 | 1:47 pm

     
  8. Footloose says:

    “Marketman says: Betchay, hmmm, good catch, now I am curious about the tree as well.”

    Yumyum tree?

    The Sub-continental version of this is the roti chanai in Singapore which are formed from pliant dough balls based on all purpose flour. Once stretched, flipped into wide discs of translucent membrane, folded and fried, they magically turn into discrete layers of flaky breakfast. Utterly delicious as only treats oozing in grease can be but the act/art of flipping the dough, is the single most fascinating street food preparation I have ever encountered anywhere.

    Jun 8, 2016 | 7:35 pm

     
  9. Khew says:

    I also used to think that the stretching requires high gluten content but have since learnt that this is more for leavened breads. For laminated type products, whereby the stretching is mechanical rather than the work of expanding CO2, an all-purpose flour with well developed/hydrated gluten does the trick of giving fine and crisp, not hard, layers. Phyllo pastry is one example. Another is the roti canai/prata type breads described by Footloose, and the vendors for such usually get their ready made balls of dough from a factory supplier. Besides being cost effective and convenient, the other reason for this is that the industrial mixers in such factories efficiently churns the dough to the point before the gluten ‘breaks’. This is the stage when the dough is extremely stretchy. From hearsay, apparently some actually want the gluten to break in order to get an almost tacky, gooey result for ease of stretching. Another way to aid gluten development is to include some acid — lemon juice for example. This is a good tip both to add flavour to the dough as well as to aid hand kneading.

    Here’s a good recipe for canai/prata which you can adapt into Xian pancakes: http://ieatishootipost.sg/how-to-make-roti-prata-aka-roti-canai-everything-you-need-to-know/

    Jun 8, 2016 | 8:34 pm

     
  10. Marketman says:

    Khew, I was googling after Footloose’s comment and found that same post… it’s well written and maybe, just maybe I am going to try this one day…

    Jun 8, 2016 | 9:01 pm

     
  11. Kasseopeia says:

    “Yumyum Tree” – brings back so many memories… and effectively marks me as a dinosaur! :)

    There is a small eatery on the ground floor of Citiland on Buendia near Osmena that serves the beef-only version of this treat, albeit not as flaky (and probably not nearly as tasty). It is now called Lao Beijing but used to be Peace and Happiness.

    Jun 9, 2016 | 6:44 am

     
  12. emsy says:

    Hi MM! Grandma Fei was only too ecstatic to share the recipe. As a woman almost 30 and unmarried, I am considered a “leftover woman” by Chinese standards. Do not fret, she assures me, this recipe will make any man fall in love with me! HAHAHAHAHAHA

    To my dismay, she doesn’t measure. She does the dough by feel, but she did say the water should be about half the volume of the flour. When I made this on my own, I used a measuring cup with the said proportions. After some research, I found out that this is a “scalded” dough where a portion of the flour is cooked with boiling water similar to the way you’d make a Hong Kong style milk bread that uses a “tang zhong” of flour cooked in milk and butter until it is pasty.

    The measured recipe that worked for me was two cups flour and a bit less than a cup of boiling water, couple pinches of salt, and two tbsps of peanut oil. Add salt and oil to the flour and rub in between your fingers. Then add the boiling water and stir with a wooden spoon or with your hands if you have Nigella’s famous asbestos hands. Grandma Fei does. Knead lightly until it comes together. Dough shouldn’t be too sticky that it sticks to your fingers but it should be soft. When it has come together in a rather smooth ball (no need to make it super smooth like a baby’s bottom) cover with a damp towel or cling wrap and let it rest for one hour.

    She insists using high gluten flour “gaojinmianfen” because you need to roll this really thin. It has to be strong enough not to break. We used a Chinese high gluten flour brand that specifically says it has 13% gluten. I asked her about flipping, as in roti, but she says no need as long as you roll the dough really thin, you will get the flaky crispy layers.

    For 2 cups of flour, we divided it into 4 portions. Roll it really thin that you can “read a newspaper through it.” Brush or spread the surface of the dough with a bit more peanut oil and spread the filling. We made one with beef and scallions (ground beef, lots of scallions, sesame oil, five spice, Sichuan peppercorn, and salt; mash until pasty). Spread the filling thinly. You may add chili sauce, hoisin, and whatever else you might like. You may roll this up the same way as you saw them do it in Xi’an but an easier technique is to roll in into a log then kind of curl the log into a snail. Then press down with a rolling pin to maybe 1/2″ thickness. I find that the Xi’an method keeps the filling in better and it seems to produce more layers. Grandma Fei prefers the log-to-snail technique.

    Pan fry with a touch of peanut oil rubbed onto the pan on medium heat. Around 3 minutes per side worked fine for us. I used a cast iron pan which I think made for a more even browning but Grandma Fei used non-stick so…your choice.

    The crust was very flaky and crispy. Just like what I could buy off of bing stalls. However, the leftovers did get soggy. A quick trip in the toaster oven solved that.

    I asked grandma Fei about lard. Apparently it used to be the fat of choice for making bing but some years ago the government issued health advisories against animal fat and so she switched to peanut oil. Interesting side note: the use of lard was so common and traditional that the Chinese even have specific names for different types of lard: “banyou” for leaf lard and “hunyou” for any fat rendered from pork. So, perhaps you’re right that the place you ate at did use some sort of animal fat. I’ll try this again with lard for sure!

    I hope you try her recipe!

    Jun 9, 2016 | 1:03 pm

     
  13. Marketman says:

    emsy, OMG, THANK YOU so much for that!! How wonderful that she shared her recipe and thank you for passing it on. I will definitely give this a try when I find high protein flour and I get some of the leaf lard from Zubu in Cebu. I want to try the old version with animal fat, before going “healthier”… I really appreciate this. Thanks. :)

    Jun 9, 2016 | 1:11 pm

     
  14. Betchay says:

    That was fast Emsy! Thank you for sharing. I will try this soon!

    Jun 9, 2016 | 1:41 pm

     
  15. joe jj says:

    Wow, can’t wait for the flaky pastry sisig! What will you call it MM? Sisig pie? I thought sisig’s better half is the five pork rice both of which I like very much, especially if eaten with kamias shake to freshen the palate, and concluded with budbud kabog! How satisfying!

    Jun 9, 2016 | 2:12 pm

     
  16. Marketman says:

    joe jj, you are familiar with our menu I gather… thanks for dropping by the restaurants. Yes, the surprising juxtaposition of kamias shake with the pork is a real discovery… first because the acid and fat seem to neutralize each other, and more surprisingly, kamias fruit apparently has healthy properties that combat fat, period.

    Jun 9, 2016 | 4:14 pm

     
  17. emsy says:

    My pleasure! It’s nothing compared to all the recipes I have gotten from here. Sister’s cinnamon rolls and Christmas cookies have shocked and awed my relatives and friends the past two Christmases and the various pork belly roasts you have featured have made me the darling of the dinner party crowd. Thank YOU! But please please open a Zubuchon in Manila already. I have been known to take advantage of piso fares just to fly from China to Cebu if only for a few hours to get Zubuchon from the airport :))

    Jun 9, 2016 | 7:26 pm

     
  18. Marketman says:

    Thanks Emsy. Keep your fingers and toes crossed. I have been this ( ) close to signing leases three times in the past 4 months for spaces we thought would do well for Zubuchon, and for some strange reason all three deals fell apart at the absolute last minute, for the oddest and most unpredictable and therefore frustrating reasons. But we are currently negotiating again, and if it works out, we may open before the holidays this year… It isn’t a classic location, and I like that it’s offbeat… if it works out. Believe me, marketmanila.com regulars will be the first to see the place if we ever get it open…

    Jun 9, 2016 | 7:58 pm

     
  19. joe jj says:

    Evident from this blog, you are a good person MM. It is your customers who should thank you for offering honest to goodness food! The Manila branch had better happen soon! How I wish it were in BGC with a lechon themed tasting menu, wine pairing, upscale service, pressed linen and silver, throw in a piano man or string quartet, never mind the price, surely there must be a market for fancy, but honest, good food. A place where you will be happy parting with your money in a value-for-value exchange quite unlike some where you leave feeling ripped off. A place where the guy in the kitchen can demonstrate his talent. This is just wishful thinking because where you position your restaurants, it seems that you want them accessible to one and all. But you mentioned non-classic location and offbeat, so that got me thinking… where? In any case, wherever it is, please make it happen!

    Jun 9, 2016 | 11:36 pm

     
  20. ami says:

    Even if the Manila location is offbeat, I hope there’s parking! :)

    Jun 10, 2016 | 10:34 am

     
  21. EbbaBlue says:

    I am coming to home again this January 2017, sure will visit Zubuchon, will take a cab if there’s no parking.

    Jun 13, 2016 | 8:05 pm

     

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