Spring Pancakes

To celebrate the Beginning of Spring, or Lichun, the first of the 24 solar terms, it is traditional in northern China to eat spring pancakes and in southern China to enjoy spring “rolls.”

The custom originated in the Eastern Jin Dynasty (317-420), with the idea of mixing water and flour into fine-texture pancakes, laying them on a plate and covering them with stir-fried vegetables. The dish, originally named spring plate, was a favorite on spring outings as well as at Lichun. The custom spread to the imperial court during the Tang (618-907) and Song (960-1279) dynasties, when well-known poets Du Fu and Lu You referred to the dish in their poetry: “It is the time of year to eat spring plate vegetables” and “Spring plates signify the year’s spring festival.” The name changed to spring pancakes/rolls during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), when refined cooking techniques transformed this everyday treat into an imperial snack. Of the 128 dishes in formal Manchurian Han Imperial Feasts, spring pancakes was one of the nine appetizers.

This hors d’oeuvre can be served all year round. Practitioners of traditional Chinese medicine, however, hold that spring, when everything burgeons and yangqi (vital energy) rises, is the best season to enjoy this tasty morsel, as its filling, made from fresh seasonal vegetables, helps prevent disease.

Spring pancakes/rolls are not difficult to make. First, add boiling water to flour, mix and knead until a firm dough forms. Cut the dough into small pieces and press flat. Brush oil on either side and combine two portions into one, roll into a thin pancake and cook in a fry pan. The two portions will plump up upon being heated, making it easier to divide them into two thin wrappers. The filling may include shredded pork, green bean sprouts, chopped leeks, vermicelli noodles, shredded carrot, and sliced omelet. Before cooking, soak the vermicelli noodles in hot water until soft enough to eat, and stir-fry the shredded carrot. Then stir-fry all the other ingredients, sprinkling a few drops of vinegar on the green bean sprouts after adding them to the wok to enrich their flavor and keep them crisp. After a few seconds, place the filling on the pancake, roll it up and serve.