A few weeks ago, I was casually scrolling through the endless content loop that is my Instagram feed when I came across a beautiful image of a golden challah stuffed with vibrant green scallions and coated with an array of multi-colored sesame seeds. It was Molly Yeh’s unbelievably perfect scallion pancake challah. Yes, it is perfect. Though the original recipe was published in 2014, it fell into my lap due to what I can only assume was an act of higher gustatory intervention. It was as if Instagram’s convoluted algorithm (looking at you, @zuck) was staring into my soul, reading the pages of my journal out loud, correcting my inability to pronounce 綠( lǜ, meaning green) properly, and dancing the hora all at the same time.
Have I completely lost you yet? Given that this is my first time really writing on the blog, and since my experience making this challah was far more meaningful than I could’ve imagined from a bread recipe, it is worthwhile to give you a bit of context here:
In September, I returned home to LA after having the tremendous privilege of living in Kaohsiung, Taiwan for a little over a year. While there is certainly something to be said about “going home,” whatever that may mean to the individual in a given time, the reverse culture shock I experienced was far more extreme than I could’ve fathomed from the other side of the Pacific. I felt wildly out of touch with myself, disillusioned by the backwardness of American society (to be sure, there are still many redeemable qualities, even now!), and, at times, extremely anxious within the city I spent the vast majority of my life. I felt that I had grown dramatically in every way possible during my time in Taiwan, but, back in LA, I struggled to feel connected to a life that suddenly felt like a fleeting dream. Perhaps a little melodramatic, but truthfully, I think it is hard to live abroad for an extended period of time without feeling moved in some profound way. And, while I am still working on articulating everything that my time in Taiwan taught, and continues to teach me about who I am personally, professionally, and politically, I have found that food synthesizes these thoughts much better than I. It always does, doesn’t it?
Which brings me back to the challah! Though I have been eating challah every Friday night for Shabbat since I could chew, and successfully tried nearly every iteration of scallion pancake (蔥油餅) Taiwan has to offer (the ones in 宜蘭縣 [Yilan County] are the BEST!), I had never actually made either from scratch. I followed Molly’s recipe exactly (I highly recommend you always do this the first time making something new), and was amazed by how spot-on her instructions were and, more importantly, deliciously it turned out. The challah recipe itself is extremely basic: just yeast, water, flour, honey, oil, salt, and eggs (and also could be the title of Samin Nosrat’s next Netflix show), lending itself very well to the punchy scallion, sesame oil, and chili flake filling. That said, the perceived simplicity is deceiving, for this recipe ultimately tells the beautiful story of the (very literal) intertwining of cultures without appropriating either. They stand alone just as well as they work together to produce a fusion food that is worth celebrating. This scallion pancake challah is both the bustling night market and the calm of a Shabbat evening, the wonderful adventure of living in a brand new place where you don’t know anyone and the comfort of being with family and friends around a shared table. For me, it is a tasteful reminder of where I have been and where I am going.
Find the recipe here: Molly Yeh's Scallion Pancake Challah
Recipe via Food52
P.S. Given the timing that this piece is coming out, I can’t help but emphasize the importance of supporting your local Asian (especially Chinese) eateries and businesses right now if you are able. Support can take the form of ordering takeout, purchasing gift cards for those in need, or buying merchandise, among others. While I certainly do not claim to be a public health expert, am not trained to offer medical advice, and do not seek to invalidate anyone’s feelings toward the subject, I hope that we do not lose sight of humanity in the face of fear. To conflate a person’s physical appearance or style of cuisine with a connection to the origin site of COVID-19 is, frankly, racist. It is great to be aware and prepared, but let’s also be realistic. If you are interested, I've linked a few articles that help capture how the pandemic is severely impacting the entire service industry and Chinese restaurants in particular (here, here, here, here, and here). Happy baking!