When buckwheat landed on the shores of Bretagne (known to English speakers as Brittany) in the 12th century, the country’s pancake landscape changed forever. The round buckwheat blanket shortly became a vessel for fresh and local ingredients to be wrapped and folded in.
Both sweet and savoury variations exist, and of course, we can’t forget the crêpe Suzette, an orange and brandy-soaked dessert created at Café de Paris for the Prince of Wales in 1895.
But way before this, in many faraway lands, grains were being milled and batter cooked over a hot, flat surface to create a wealth of dishes – none of them called a crêpe.
The origin of China’s beloved jianbing – a thin filled pancake and morning street vendor staple – has a number of claims floating around, some as recent as 600 years ago, and some recording China’s pancake making practices as early as 5,000 years.
It holds origins in Shandong and Hebei provinces, as well as Tianjin, which is a city that holds municipality status – a classification given to certain cities allowing them the same rank as provinces in China. The jianbing in Tianjin is known as the jianbing guozi, with guozi referring to the addition of a youtiao (fried Chinese doughnut) stuffed into the middle before the crepe is folded up and served as a portable breakfast.
According to Madras-born K T Achaya, food historian and author of The Story of our Food, dosa (written as dosai) was already being recorded as far back as the 1st century, AD. This Southern Indian snack is typically made with finely-ground rice and black gram flour, served stuffed with potatoes and chutney, and accompanied by a tamarind-based lentil stew for dipping.
Ethiopia’s sour, soft and porous bread, injera, is made using teff flour – a staple made by grinding the seeds of a species of grass native to what is now modern-day Ethiopia. According to the article, ‘Investigations of the Nature of Injera’, published in the journal Economic Botany, tales of injera date back as far as 100 BC.
Traditional makers insist that containers must never be washed thoroughly, and a portion of the previous batches fermenting liquid (called irsho) must be added to the following batch to ensure proper fermentation – much like making a sourdough.
Joining the buckwheat bandwagon, alongside the Breton crêpe, Korea’s memiljeon has had a long history in the buckwheat-growing regions’ cuisine. The grain was popularly used to make noodles as well as the memiljeon pancake, also known as memiljeong byeong or memil chongtteok, as well as a number of other thicker pancakes known as memilbuchimgae.
Buckwheat noodles were popularly served in Korea from the late 1300s to early 1900s as an official coming-of-age dish. Pancakes are now just as popular and often filled with radish, kimchi and pork, and served with a soy dipping sauce or fiery gochujang.
Derived from the spring roll, the south-eastern Chinese popiah, or runbing, first originated in Fujian province; typically eaten in spring when fresh vegetables are in abundance. They’re now popular across Singapore and a variant also exists in Nyonya cuisine using egg in the batter.
The dish is now typically eaten for Qingming festival after the festival merged with Cold Food Festival, originally held in honour of Jie Zitui, an ancient scholar who died in a fire at the hand of his idol, Duke Wen, in 476 BC.
The dough is unique in that it’s made using a sticky wheat flour mix, which is quickly rubbed onto the surface of a hot pan before being lifted off, leaving a thin layer behind. This becomes the wrapper for a filling of shredded fresh vegetables and meat that are seasoned with various sauces and chili oil.
Eastern Europe: Palacinke
The palacinke (palačinke) or palatschinke, is a crepe dish popular throughout many other Central and Eastern European countries. It bears a very similar resemblance to the French crêpe, however, the dish is said to be of Greco-Roman origin. It was first referenced by Cato the Elder in his work On Farming around 150 BC, labelled as placenta (no, not that kind) which was a dish of thin dough layered with cheese and honey.
Nowadays palacinke is served both sweet and savoury with fillings varying from chocolate, or sugar and lemon, to the Hungarian variant stuffed with veal and mushrooms and doused in a paprika-sour cream sauce. The name palacinta (Romanian) refers to the signature runny batter used in the recipe.
Malaysia: Pek nga
This savoury coconut fried pancake is traditionally eaten for breakfast or during tea time with sugar or sambal, or served alongside dishes like fish curry and sticky rice. The recipe contains all the classic crêpe ingredients: flour, eggs and butter, but also ample shredded coconut.
It’s a famous traditional dish of Kedah (just north of Penang) and is a close relative to the western pancake. Despite being a notable dish, it isn’t as popular as regional items like laksa or dodol, though there has been growing popularity with a local vendor in Kelatan, on the country’s east coast. Pek nga also goes by the name lempeng kelapa, which translates directly to pancake coconut.
Get around a galette? The Best of Taste le Tour with Gabriel Gaté airs every night from Saturday 6 July and finishes Sunday 28 July 2019. Visit the Taste le Tour website to catch-up on episodes online, scroll through recipes or find out more about the show. That includes this recipe for Brittany crêpes filled with strawberries and apricot jam. Watch it here.
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