Pancake Day: five of the best pancake alternatives

We’ve tracked down some international alternatives to regular pancakes, from South American arepas to Japanese okonomiyaki

By Sudi Pigott
Published 9 Apr 2019, 00:02 BST, Updated 1 Mar 2022, 16:31 GMT

Translating loosely as ‘as you like it, fried’, okonomiyaki’s core ingredients are a flour made of flour, nagaimo yam or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage.

Photograph by Sudi Pigott

Pancakes don’t have to be made of eggs, milk and flour. Around the world you’ll find flat fried foodstuffs made of everything from chickpeas and potatoes to mung beans and maize. And that’s before you add any flavour-rich toppings and fillings into the bargain. Here are five of our favourite alternatives for Pancake Day.

1. Socca: France

Somewhere between a flatbread and a pancake, socca is a Niçoise speciality made from a simple batter of chickpea flour, olive oil and water. Best served with crème fraîche and anchoiade, a gutsy anchovy dip, the real thing can be found at Chez Pipo. At this restaurant in Old Nice, they make socca in a wood-fired oven, which gives it a satisfyingly earthy, smoky tang. But you can easily make it yourself in a frying pan, adding a generous teaspoon of ground cumin for toasty notes that hint at wood fire. It’s a perfect party snack — Alain Ducasse has suggested serving it as an amuse-bouche.

2. Arepa: Colombia and Venezuela

With more and more visitors venturing to Colombia, it’s no surprise arepas are very much in vogue too, popping up at British street food markets including London’s Maltby Street and Camden Lock. These thick discs are made from masarepa, part-cooked cornmeal flour (either yellow or white variations), often incorporating herbs, sweetcorn or a mozzarella-like queso fresco cheese into the batter. While Colombian-style arepas are all about the toppings, with a crunchy exterior and soft, inner texture, Venezuelan style arepas are split open and stuffed with fillings such as chicken and avocado, black beans and plantain.

3. Jianbing: China

Bold contrasts of flavour and texture are make this crisp-fried yet crepe-thin pancake a Chinese breakfast classic. It varies regionally (Tianjin-style jianbing are made with mung bean flour, for example) and the fillings range from soft egg, crackly wonton skins and zingy coriander to fresh cucumber, crunchy Chinese leaves and spring onions, with an added sweet-spicy-salty hit of hoisin or chilli sauce. Want to find it in the UK? Try a hole-in-the-wall kiosk (officially called Pleasant Lady Jian Bing Trading Stall) on Greek Street, in London’s Soho.

4. Okonomiyaki: Japan

Translating loosely as ‘as you like it, fried’, okonomiyaki’s core ingredients are a flour made of flour, nagaimo yam or dashi, eggs and shredded cabbage. But there’s no definitive recipe, and you can find all sorts of extras thrown in, from seafood and pork to vegetables. In fact, the Japanese are so free and easy about how it should be made that many restaurants offer diners the option to cook their own over a teppan (hotplate). What really makes okonomiyaki is the garnish: it’s traditional to drizzle over both Japanese Kewpie mayo (made with egg yolk and rice vinegar) and sweet-sour okonomiyaki sauce made with dashi, Worcestershire sauce, tomato ketchup, tamarind, soy sauce, apple juice and honey. Plus a sprinkling of seaweed powder and dried bonito flakes to impart umami richness.

5. Boxty: Ireland

Traditionally served for breakfast, the Irish boxty is a favourite of County Meath-born chef Richard Corrigan — and who are we to argue with a three-time Great British Menu winner? Akin to a hash brown or a latke, it’s made from a mix of mashed and grated potato that’s shaped into a patty and fried. It’s pleasingly substantial, especially if served with poached smoked haddock, eggs and mustard sauce. A couple of tips: for an extra fluffy boxty incorporate egg white, while buttermilk will give a mild tang.

Sudi is author of Flipping Good (Kyle Books, £12.99)

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