Where to get Da Bing, giant Chinese pancake bread with scallions?

I don’t understand more than a few words in Mandarin or Cantonese, even though my grandmother can read, write and speak both languages. Growing up in the San Gabriel Valley, she only ever spoke English to me and my sister. She wanted us to know English, be Americans, and enjoy all the rights and privileges that came with that designation.

An immigrant, she arrived in Los Angeles’ Chinatown as a teenager with little to offer – just a determination to raise a family and a life in the shadow of the great American dream – so I can understand her reasoning. But I wish I could speak the language. Sometimes when I’m in a group of Chinese speakers, I feel like an outsider.

I can manage a greeting and a polite “thank you”. And most importantly, I can order dim sum and a variety of other foods that make me feel connected to my grandmother and the world she came from.

Things can get a little tricky when there are multiple names for a dish. The correct name often depends on who and where you ask. There are no fewer than three names for this week’s obsession: zhi ma da bing, da bing or Shànghǎi qiāng bǐng, also known as Chinese scallion sesame bread, scallion sesame pancakes or scallion cake.

I prefer “da bing,” which loosely translates to “big cake” in Mandarin. Whatever you call it, it’s essentially China’s answer to focaccia bread.

Typical spring onion and sesame cake at Ahgoo’s Kitchen

The signature scallion sesame cake from Ahgoo’s Kitchen in Temple City.

(Jenn Harris/Los Angeles Times)

At Ahgoo’s, Thomas and Lily Yeh’s three-year-old restaurant in Temple City, the main course is the signature scallion sesame tart. On each table there is a basket filled with eight bookend-thick bread triangles.

Each slice features an abundance of layers full of green onions. The ratio of bread to allium seems to be about one to one. I hope you can enlarge the photos.

The gold-flecked crust is sesame-coated armor as thin and delicate as the first layer of a scallion pancake. The middle is like a completely different bread, soft and slightly spongy. It is both airy and dense and has a strong scallion flavor.

I eat the first slice one at a time, appreciating the texture of the bread, the tiny bubbles along the crust, and the abundance of sesame seeds. I refine the second piece with a few spoonfuls of the chili sauce lying on the table, seasoned with a mild, roasted mixture of chili and oil.

“My wife comes from northern China,” says Thomas. “When she was younger, she learned how to do it from her grandfather and mother.”

Lily makes the dough from flour, yeast, water, salt and plenty of spring onions.

“We put the oil in the pan, then the cake and then the water,” says Thomas.

The crust solidifies into a solid, crispy layer while the center steams.

Thomas says Lily makes the breads for the restaurant, an average of about 50 a day. But he is also familiar with the process.

“I am from Taiwan and learned from my Zufu a long time ago,” he says, referring to his grandfather.

You may want to tone down the rest of your order depending on how many people are at the table. Two slices could easily be a meal in itself.

Or go crazy. The bread tastes great when you warm it up in the pan for breakfast the next morning.

Sesame and spring onion pancakes from Taste of China

Zhi ma da bing from Taste of China in Rowland Heights.

(Jenn Harris/Los Angeles Times)

Do you know that once something is introduced to you or you remember it, you see it everywhere? For me it was the week of Da Bing.

I wasn’t there for da Bing at the food court on the corner of Pacific Plaza in Rowland Heights. I recently went there for a column at MBL & Q Burger for the chicken burgers. But after seeing a handful of women folding dumplings at random tables in the middle of the dining room, I decided to investigate.

I spotted the sesame and scallion pancakes stacked in a neat display on the counter of a stand called Taste of China. It was a gluten palace that tempted with dozens of rolls stuffed with Chinese leeks, egg, pork and pickled cabbage; fried buns; and rainbow dumplings.

The pancakes were the size of large pizzas, a few inches thick, and had golden tips sprinkled with sesame seeds.

The sliced ​​Zhi Ma Da Bing from Taste of China in Rowland Heights.

(Jenn Harris/Los Angeles Times)

The pancake was breadier than the version at Ahgoo’s Kitchen, with a crispy crust that blended seamlessly with the batter underneath.

The scallions were confined to the center, surrounded by fluffy bread that springs back with a finger press. The subtle peppery flavor of the scallions flavored the three inches of dough with just enough freshness to inspire a second piece of dough.

You can order your pancake in slices or whole. If you are taking it to enjoy somewhere else, I recommend ordering the whole pancake and slicing it right before eating. I couldn’t wait and asked to have it cut there.

And yes, this is also good for tomorrow’s breakfast.

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