In the year 2000, my dad’s half sisters from Beijing came to our house to visit for a month. Not only did I learn that my 爺爺, like some Chinese who fled to Taiwan to escape Mao, had married a first wife before he met my 奶奶, but that he had two daughters from that previous marriage, whom my dad and our family had never met. Obviously, Chinese/family drama prevented us from meeting them or knowing about them up until that point.
So, my 大姑 二姑 (da gu, er gu) arrived, and after only a few days into their stay, my dad promptly brought home a 50 pound bag of flour from our local Costco (I miss the days of living 5 minutes away from Costco 🙁 ). Fear not; this was not gluttony at work, but rather, common sense. Northerners are famous for their “麵食“ or mian shi, or basically goodies made with or from flour- think dumplings, noodles, steamed buns, shao bing, etc etc., and my 大姑 and 二姑 were no exception. They, like many other Chinese, showed their love and care for us through the delicious food they made for us, carby and bready delights included. Even though their visit was 15 years ago, I remember many goodies they made us- pan fried steamed buns (sheng jian bao) with kabocha squash filling, individual sesame shao bing, chewy dough filled with sesame paste and ooey gooey brown sugar, zongzi galore, man tou, and Chinese pizza, as my mom and I (and sister, maybe?) fondly called it.
This Chinese pizza was named as such because 大姑 and 二姑 never told us the real name for it, and well, we never asked! I guess we were too eager to eat it that we didn’t care what its name was. Anyway, this was one of the dishes they only made once, or at most, a handful of times. (Why didn’t I request it more often when they were visiting? I think it was because we ran out of cornmeal? No idea..just sad.) The makings of this Chinese pizza started out with some cornmeal mush that was cooked slowly on the stove, that was transformed into a cornmeal crust of crackly crunchy edges and outsides, and a soft, tender interior. Then, this crust was topped with jiu cai (Chinese/garlic chives), scrambled egg, shrimp skins, and lightly enhanced with a little bit of sesame oil- a topping very reminiscent of the filling of jiu cai he zi. The combination together of corny cornmeal and garlicky chives is something to remember and savor!
The crazy thing is that even though this dish was definitely not the most often-made by 大姑and 二姑 (shao bing were)，it is one that I distinctly remember as being oh so good, and is one that my family raved about, long after 大姑 and 二姑 returned to Beijing. The crazier thing is that I personally haven’t tried to re-create it until NOW.
I think my mom may have tried making Chinese pizza at some point, but for some reason my memory is foggy on that…I just know that when my dad was here, I suddenly remembered this dish, had some cornmeal and fresh jiu cai from Ling’s parents’ garden, and REALLY wanted to try making it.
Me: “Hey Ba, do you remember that jiu cai and cornmeal pizza that er gu and da gu made for us when they came to visit ? I want to make it.”
My dad: “Hmm…are you sure you don’t mean hu ta zi?”
Me: “Nonono, the pizza thing…crunchy cornmeal and the topping was with jiu cai?”
My dad: “Oh, hu ta zi?”
This went on for a good 5 minutes, until finally my dad said he could just call er gu and da gu up so I could talk to them myself. Woop, dilemma solved! I spoke to 大姑, and lo and behold, my educated guesses as to how to make it and what went in it were not too far off base!
I know summer is sadly and quickly fading away, and I would have posted this recipe sooner, but the first time wasn’t ideal, so I wanted to try again before posting. I’d like to personally thank Ling (and her parents!) for being my purveyor of delicious, juicy jiu cai that is second to none!
PLEASE TRY THIS RECIPE; you will develop a new appreciation for cornmeal AND jiu cai, so what more could you ask?
So, after I spoke with my aunts, I learned that the real name for Chinese pizza is actually hu bing (no, Baba, not hu ta zi ;))- hu meaning ‘paste,’ and bing, ‘bread’ (for lack of a better translation), but the English name will always be Chinese pizza, in my book.
Makes 2 5-6 inch pizzas
140 grams (~5 oz) jiu cai (Chinese chives) (2 cups)
1 Tbsp dried shrimp skin
1 tsp salt
2 tsp sesame oil
~2 Tbsp canola/vegetable/soybean/neutral oil
170 grams cornmeal- fine cornmeal, or even better-a combination of fine cornmeal and polenta/yellow grits
1) Prepare the filling: scramble an egg, making sure to break up the egg into tiny little bits. Cut the jiu cai into small pieces, then in a bowl, mix together the cooked egg, shrimp skin, salt and sesame oil.
2) Mix your cornmeal(s) together; I like the extra crunchy texture of the grits, so I did something like 80% grits and 20% fine cornmeal. Add enough water so that all the cornmeal granules stick together and are generously wet, but not so much that you have a pourable batter. Henceforth you should have your cornmeal mush.
3) Heat a cast-iron pan (preferable) or skillet until it’s warm, then add 2 Tbsp oil, or enough oil to generously coat the entire surface of the pan, and then some. Important: ALWAYS keep the pan heat at low or medium; NOT HIGH! You don’t want burns on yourself or the cornmeal, do you?
4) Pat half the cornmeal mush into the pan into as thin of a round as possible (I got a ~6 inch circle). As the oil heats up, some of the water will begin to evaporate and the edges of the cornmeal round that you made should be shallow frying. Look for a rim of more transparent yellow around the entire circumference of the circle; that means that the edges are cooked. Continue shallow-frying until the edges start to crisp up (gently scrape/poke the edges with a spatula; listen for a nice crunchy sound). Then, drizzle a little bit (1-3 Tbsp) of water in the center of the cornmeal circle, focusing on the parts that still look raw (lighter yellow / more opaque). Turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and cover the pan to finish steam-cooking the cornmeal round.
5) After a minute or so of steaming, open the lid and check that the entire cornmeal round is the same shade of yellow. If not, that means the middle is still not completely cooked, in which case, repeat the sprinkle of water and steam process.
6) When the entire cornmeal round is completely cooked, let it cook on the pan without the lid for a few minutes, to let the cornmeal dry out- this will help it be more crispy.
7) Once you don’t see anymore water, spread the jiu cai filling onto the cornmeal round.
8) Cover everything with a lid and cook for 1 minute.
9) Carefully remove the hu bing from the pan, either with a good spatula, or by doing a slide/pour combination. Enjoy! Be a barbarian, and pick up the entire round and take bites, or use a pizza slicer or serrated knife to cut into sixths like a pizza.
-I think this would be really good with some soup or plain porridge/congee/xi fan.