Yellow Lies

Congee is a porridge or gruel made primarily from rice with other grains and legumes. It was known to me as 稀饭 (xīfàn, literally “watery rice”). It isn’t a particularly exciting meal. In fact, I sort of hate it.

Don’t worry. I am not lazy enough to make congee this post’s recipe. Just in case, here’s a recipe for those who may be interested. Put water, rice, and whatever else you want in a pot. Add more water. Boil the soul out of the rice. Feed it to your upset child. Wonder about what upset him. Spoiler alert! It’s the congee.

After forcibly gulping down molten congee every Sunday morning with the aid of an overflowing heap of pork floss, I was whisked away to weekly reacculturation therapy at HuaXia Chinese School at Miramar College. Here is a perfect encapsulation of how I feel about HuaXia. There, I learned about the apocryphal origin story of congee. Supposedly, it was invented as a grim reminder of the untimely but deserved death of a young couple who starved because they did not work hard to diversify their crops (hence the multitude of grains in congee). This made me hate congee more.

We were lied to at Chinese school a lot. Thank you to AG and QY for their contributions. If you guys have any other funny tales, please send them to me! I really do get a kick out of them. Here are some of my favorite yellow lies:

Beethoven, after overhearing a self-deprecating blind girl struggling to play his Pathétique Sonata, attempted to comfort her by obnoxiously improvising at the piano for her. This improvisation was shortly thereafter transcribed and became the famous Moonlight Sonata. As we all know, Beethoven is historically known for being a kind and compassionate individual, and we ought to emulate his behavior if we are to achieve similar greatness.

Pimples are a curses laid upon mankind for wasting rice. When eating a bowl of rice at an East Asian household, leaving uneaten grains of rice is not only a disrespect to the host who served the rice, the cooks who steamed it, and the farmers who worked to provide it, but also to nine petty little deities who inhabit each rice grain. This disrespect manifests physically in the next life as facial blemishes. I am currently being punished for my past incarnation’s negligence.

The biggest lie of all is that scallion pancakes are the precursor to Italian pizza. Marco Polo, during his travels to the Middle Kingdom in the 13th century, fell in love with the scallion pancake and attempted to recreate it upon returning to Italy. He failed miserably. Questions of historicity aside, I do understand the appeal of claiming something as delicious as pizza to be your invention. Scallion pancakes are also appealing visually, olfactorily and gustatorily as a culinary art object, everything congee is not. And unlike the other tales, there’s no patronizing moralizing element. This recipe goes out to my buddy-boi, Marco Polo. Cheers.

The (Scallion Pan)cake is a Lie!
makes one cringey, dated pop culture reference and four flatbreads

2 cups all-purpose flour, and extra for dusting
0.5-0.75 cup hot water
4-6 scallions, finely chopped
2 tbsp red chili flakes
0.25 cup vegetable or other neutral oil
1 tbsp salt

1. Add hot water slowly to the flour and combine. Knead for 5-10 minutes until smooth. I haven’t had an instance where I didn’t need to adjust the water to flour ratio. If the dough is too sticky to knead, add more flour. If you find yourself getting tired kneading the dough, loosen it up by adding more water. Cover and let rest for 20 minutes.
2. During this time, heat oil to its smoking point. Combine chili flakes and finely-chopped scallion in a heat-proof bowl. Pour hot oil directly over mixture. It will sizzle and release an intense aroma. This is a cooking method called 油泼 (yóu pō, “oil pour”) from my dad’s province, Shaanxi, usually served over hand-pulled noodles. It is not traditional in scallion pancake recipes, but I think it lends an interesting bite. Cool for a few minutes, like most pieces of ambient contemporary classical music.
3. Divide dough into four equal pieces. Roll out dough pieces until thin enough to be translucent, approximately 12 inches in diameter.
4. Spread a quarter of the scallions, chili and hot oil mixture and 0.25 tbsp salt on one side of each piece of dough. I guess this kind of looks like a pizza?
5. Roll up each pizza into a log, and then the log into a cinnamon bun. Here’s a helpful diagram, since I’m awful at giving instructions.
6. Spiral facing up, roll each cinnamon bun into a circular flatbread around 8 inches in diameter.
7. Lightly oil a frying pan, and pan-fry until crispy on both sides.

Music Recommendation:
Little Dragon – Lover Chanting

4 thoughts on “Yellow Lies”

  1. I was told in Chinese school that Marco Polo brought a steamed meat bun back on the ship, and during its travel across the ocean, in a box i presume, the meat separated from the heavily damaged bun (from the choppy seas) and when he landed they just put the filling on top of the bun, added some local ingredients and that’s how pizza was invented 😊


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