French crepes with seasonal fruit from Bitton. Photo: Sasha Woolley
Crepes, hotcakes, pancakes, latkes, pooris, drop scones, griddle cakes, blini, hortobagyl, hotcakes, okonomiyaki - call them what you like, but if you’re going to eat a stack of them, Shrove Tuesday is the day to do it.
To ‘‘shrive’’ is to repent and Christians typically observe Shrove Tuesday – Pancake Day – by confessing their sins to a priest on the day before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent.
For many Christians, Shrove Tuesday is a last-hurrah day to indulge in a gluttonous guilt-free feast before committing to six full weeks of fasting.
The hortobágyi palacsinta from Zi-Zi Pancake Bar in Leichhardt. Photo: Sasha Woolley
In multicultural Sydney, there are a multitude of restaurants and cafes that have turned the humble practice of making pancakes into an art form.
Be it a bao bing used to envelop Peking duck, or a savoury Hungarian palacsinta, there are many delectable versions of this simple dish that you can enjoy on Shrove Tuesday. Here are some of the city’s best pleasure palaces for pancakes.
Grilled ... The Okinomiyaki savoury pancakes from Kujin. Photo: Sasha Woolley
French crepes originated in Brittany, north-west France, around the 12th century, when buckwheat was introduced to the region. Now, the paper-thin cousin of the pancake is the most common form of the griddled flatbread found in the world.
Crepes can be compared to the African injera, the Mexican tortilla and the Indian dosa.
In France, crepes are traditionally served on Shrove Tuesday to celebrate renewal. The custom is to hold a coin in your writing hand while you flip the crepe. If you catch the crepe, your family will be in for some good fortune.
One of the best places to enjoy French crepes in Sydney is at Bitton Cafe & Bistro, where chef David Bitton doles out ooh-la-la crepes served with a glossy dollop of strawberry and vanilla jam and a scoop of vanilla bean ice cream.
Bitton, 36-37a Copeland St, Alexandria, 9519 5111; bittongourmet.com.au
In the US, Canada and Mexico, pancakes (also called hotcakes, griddlecakes or flapjacks) contain a raising agent, which results in a thick batter and light, fluffy circular cake.
Pancakes have long been a staple in the Americas, where Native Americans first introduced the food to white settlers as far back as 1607.
English settlers transplanted the tradition of Shrove Tuesday and by 1745, Americans called them ‘‘hoe cakes’’ because the batter-type bread was cooked on the blade of a hoe over an open fire.
Bill Granger’s defining dish of ricotta hotcakes takes the age-old recipe and gives it a thoroughly modern twist. His towering stacks of pancakes, served at Bill's, are soft and springy and made eye-wideningly good with the accompanying crunch of honeycomb butter and sweetness of fresh banana.
Bill’s, 433 Liverpool St, Darlinghurst, 9360 9631, bills.com.au
Blinis have long been considered symbolic by early Slavic people because of their round form, which in pre-Christian times, was seen as a symbol of the sun and therefore life. Traditionally, they were prepared at the end of winter to honour the rebirth of the new sun.
Instead of reserving one day to celebrate the buckwheat blini, the eastern Europeans celebrated for an entire week for Maslenitsa (pancake week).
As well as being hugely popular in Russia, blinis have become a staple as a sophisticated party starter. Russkis Deli on Bondi Beach sells frozen packets to home cooks, who can get creative with the toppings.
Russkis Deli owner Michael Goloff says blinis are like bread: “The dough is neutral, so you can eat warm or cold and roll it up with 1000 different fillings. A favourite topping is salmon roe, sour cream and chives.”
Russkis, 131 Bondi Road, Bondi, Sydney 9387 6313, russkisdeli.com
According to okonomiyakiworld.com, okinomiyaki translates to “what you like, grilled’’. The website states the earliest origins of this Japanese specialty date back to the Edo period (1683-1868) and a special dessert served at Buddhist ceremonies called the funoyaki.
When rice became scarce during World War 2, the simple wheat pancake became a staple, and ingredients such as eggs, pork and cabbage were added to the mix.
While there are many different variations of the recipe, Kujin head chef Chihiro Nokubi favours the Osaka style that uses a small thin pancake as the base and layers it with a mix of eggs, shredded cabbage, shallots and ginger.
The grilled pancake has a gorgeous fluffy texture and is finished with a drizzle of mayo and sweet, jammy apple sauce.
Kujin, 41B Elizabeth Bay Rd, Elizabeth Bay, 9331 6077.
Many anthropologists agree pancakes were probably one of the first foods cooked in prehistoric times. Throughout history, the dish has evolved to reflect regional cuisine and local customs.
In Hungary, the hortobágyi palacsinta is a savoury meat-filled pancake baked in the oven with paprika and sour cream and flecked with fresh parsley.
It’s a dish that has heritage. For centuries, Hungary’s central European location made it attractive to conquerors, which has had a lasting influence on its cuisine.
Slovakian, Serbian, Croatian, Romanian, Russian, Polish and German influences abound – largely due to the fact Hungary was under German rule for almost 200 years.
The palacsinta is one of many culinary legacies that remain, an authentic version of which can be enjoyed at Zi-Zi Pancake Bar, in Leichardt, where the menu itself is a history lesson.
Zi-Zi Pancake Bar, 5 Norton St, Leichardt, 9569 2111, www.pancake.bar.com.au
What's your favourite type of pancake and where do you get it in Sydney? Tell us in the comments below.
Follow Carla Grossetti on Twitter (@carlagrossetti)