I was raised in the South, which meant every Sunday my mother would force me into a petty coat, stockings, dress and patent leather Mary Janes and ship me off to church with my grandmother and grandfather for two and a half hours of cold folding chairs and complicated messages about the future of my soul.
Making it through Sunday school was pretty easy with my friends around, but the sermon was the real gauntlet of hunger and boredom. My stomach would grumble as I sat in that hard pew, sometimes so loudly my grandmother would give me a mint from her purse. The mint didn’t soothe my hunger so much as it whet my appetite for what I knew was coming: Chinese food.
We almost always went to the same Chinese restaurant after church, and Chinese food still reminds me of those Sundays when my grandfather was alive. It only took my grandparents shaking every hand in the congregation before we could finally make our way to our favorite Chinese joint for their Sunday buffet. My grandparents had become good friends with the woman who owned the restaurant over the years, and we were always greeted warmly. (Those hugs always felt like a congratulations for making it through church.)
I knew there would be lots of things to enjoy, but I always looked forward to scallion pancakes.
As a kid I couldn’t quite say why I liked scallion pancakes so much, but as an adult I can say their appeal lies in their simplicity. Savory and chewy, warm and filling — what’s not to like?
Lee Yuan Chinese Cuisine reminds me a lot of those Sundays after church, with its red and gold Chinese zodiac place mats, china lined with blue flowers and a scattered about collection of hand-painted glass horses. Even the inconspicuous location in a strip mall reminds me of the restaurant back home. It gives me such nostalgia I can almost hear my grandfather laughing as my grandmother tells him he can’t have a piece of cheesecake.
There’s a lunch buffet at Lee Yuan, but I prefer to go at dinner time. The small space feels cozy without feeling cramped, and everyone gets a pot of hot black tea. Don’t expect to rush through dinner at Lee Yuan, because they cook to order. When I ordered up some scallion pancakes during my recent trip, we were told quite frankly that it would take some time.
But if 15 minutes is too long to wait for the perfectly flaky pancakes that were delivered, you should consider some meditation classes.
I’ve never made scallion pancakes at home, but from what I understand they take a fair amount of patience. You have to chill the dough after you make it, then roll it and flatten it repeatedly, brushing it with oil and sprinkling in scallions as you go before finally frying it up to perfection and serving it.
The end result at Lee Yuan is a golden brown pancake with flaky layers reminiscent of phyllo dough. The scallion flavor is mild and a soy dipping sauce adds a bit of salty depth to the bready treat.
For me, Lee Yuan is a portal back to my childhood, a way for me to remember times when my whole family was around to enjoy some delicious scallion pancakes… and maybe a piece of cheesecake for my grandad.
Lee Yuan Chinese Cuisine. 4800 Baseline Road, A110, Boulder, 303-494-4210.