A local creation, a Local Gem!
When the recent pandemic hit the city and canceled a slew of outdoor events, one attraction besides the entertainment sadly missed by Edmontonians was an exotic pancake appetizer common at those gatherings across the city. For years, the northern Chinese delicacy known as green onion cake jockeyed for attention between the mini-donuts and elephant ears at kiosks during major festivals and it wasn’t long before locals embraced the appetizer as their own.
But more than 40 years ago, green onion cakes were pretty much non-existent in the city until a former construction worker from Qingdao, China opted for a future in the hospitality industry. Siu To, who missed the cuisine from his homeland, fortunately knew how to cook them and from that mindset sprang a unique menu that included the green onion cake appetizer. In 1978, the dish premiered at his first eatery, Happy Garden and then his next venture Mongolian Food Experience.
Almost overnight, To’s cakes were hot items across the city to the point where other restaurants wanted to buy the items in bulk for their clientele. Then, when the first of many festivals sprang up all over the city from the Folk Festival to the Fringe in the early 1980s, To saw an opportunity to make the dish available at these events, and before he knew it, his cakes were selling like hotcakes.
What’s unusual is that nowhere else in Canada or even the U.S. are green onion cakes anywhere near as popular as they are in Edmonton. A few initiatives have taken place to make To’s creation the official food of the city. And while that has yet to happen, it’s already achieved notoriety as an attraction with such achievements as being a featured food at a Royal Alberta Museum exhibit on Chinese restaurants in 2013 and a listing in Charlene Rooke’s tome Edmonton: Secrets of the City.
As for why the pancake-shaped dish is uniquely popular on the western outskirts of the prairies, it’s a mystery. Some like the fact that it’s not messy to eat, others like it as a diversion from the more sugary food available at events. But more ardent supporters think the dish’s simplicity is a reflection of the unpretentious demeanor of Edmontonians.
Whatever the reason, while delicious, it’s also easy to make. And To, who now runs his own restaurant, Green Onion Cake Man, hasn’t made the recipe a secret, hoping to share his favorite dish with as many folks as possible.
Green Onion Cake Man
9132-118 Ave., Edmonton
Siu To’s Green Onion Cake Recipe
- 4 c. all-purpose flour
- 1 tsp. baking soda
- ¼ tsp. baking soda
- 450 mL water
- ¼ c. shortening
- ¼ c. vegetable oil
- 1 tsp. sesame oil
- 2 tsp. salt
- 2-3 bunches chopped green onions
- 1 bottle sambal hot sauce
- Mix the flour baking soda, baking powder and water in a large bowl. Knead the dough until texture is the same as your cheek.
- Cover the bowl and set aside. In a separate bowl, mix the shortening, vegetable oil, sesame oil, salt and green onions.
- Spread out the dough into a circular shape and flatten to 1 cm. thin with a rolling pin.
- Spread out the green onion mixture onto the dough.
- From the bottom, stretch the dough and roll it inwards until it is a long baguette-like roll.
- Cut it into eight rectangular pieces.
- Squeeze and pinch the ends shut.
- Flatten each into a pancake shape and store between two rectangular sheets of parchment paper.
- Heat oil in a frying pace.
- Place cake and pan fry until golden brown on each side. Serve with sambal hot sauce.
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