锅魁(Kuixing) or锅盔（helmet)—Civil Expectation of the Pen and the Sword
Author: Bo Yang
There are scallion pancake and fried baozi in Shanghai, flatbread in Beijing, Naan in Xinjiang, pancake in Shandong, shaobing in Henan, erkuai in Yunnan and “锅魁(Kuixing—a god)” in Sichuan. What is “锅魁(Kuixing)”? It sounds cool, but actually “锅魁(Kuixing)” is also called “锅盔(helmet)”, and “dried bun” in Shanxi province. The bunsik with traditional flavor popular in Guanzhong area is a kind of pancake baked with low heat and it is usually as thick as 1.3 inches and as heavy as 2.5 kg. The dough is kneaded sturdy with large size similar to big pot or helmet. Its appearance may not be attractive, but it already has a history of one thousand years. It is said that in the reign of empress Wuzetian of Tang Dynasty, because of the huge and complicated project of Qianling Mausoleum, officers, soldiers and the public found it difficult to cook and barely had time for lunch. Then they began to bake pancake with helmet as pot. Therefore, this kind of crusty pancake was called “锅盔(helmet)”.
In Sichuan, it is because of the large population and abundant products of Chengdu Plain and gourmandism of Sichuan food and drink that turn an ordinary wheaten food to an extraordinary ancestor of Tianfu snacks. A crusty pancake connects the great wisdom and resourcefulness of Zhuge Liang and descendants of the Three Kingdoms. It also tells the story of the change from military solid food to folk snacks. Every bite of Sichuan crusty pancake will remind you of heroic soldiers fighting in the battle as well as the change of expectation from military necessities to prosperity of literature and art as the change from “helmet” to “Kuixing”
Shaanxi Crusty Pancake: A Question Left by Wheaten Food in North China
Shanxi crusty pancake was also a kind of military food as Sichuan crusty pancake, however, the former is different from the latter in terms of material and baking. First, Shanxi crusty pancake is made of wheat flour powder. Then, it uses compression bar to knead dough and put the dough into a shallow pot baking with slow fire. At last, it comes out from the pot with yellow spots and white fillings, crisp and hot, the perfect timing of eating it. It still can keep long and it is easy to carry. In the jiggle “Ten wonders in Shanxi province” made up by outsiders, one of them “pot-cover-shaped pancake” just indicates crusty pancake. No matter crusty pancake in Shanxi or Sichuan, they are both tasty. However, the names and writings are not unified, some write “锅魁(Kuixing)”, others write“锅盔(helmet)”. They actually indicate the same food and have similar origin with different characters though. So, is it “锅魁(Kuixing)” or “锅盔(helmet)”?
Crusty Pancake in Sichuan
Crusty pancake in Sichuan was also called “锅盔(helmet)” because of a story. It is said that in the period of the Three Kingdoms, Zhuge Liang ordered General Wei Jiang to lead the army opening up wasteland in the suburb of Chengdu, grazing the horses and training soldiers. Wei Jiang is Qiang people and good at making paste cake, so he made a lot of paste cake as solid food carried by soldiers during the marching so as to prepare for the war. When the paste cake was heated in metal helmets, they became flatbread, brown on both sides. Therefore, the military food was called “锅盔(helmet)” in the first place and its birthplace was called “military tillage” because of the story of Zhuge Liang and Wei Jiang’s station troop. As a result, station troop pancake takes an important place in Sichuan cuisine.
Station troop pancake is famous in western Sichuan for its aroma, softness, crispness, and tenderness. It can be seen everywhere in eateries of Chengdu.
An eatery in Renming Road operates on a substandard condition with a signboard, a price list, a glass box and a furnace. Although it is so crude, it still attracts lots of attention with people lining up to buy pancakes. How are they tasted? Chengdu citizens start eating station troop pancakes from an early age. Even if they grew up and left Chengdu, the first thing when they came back from other cities or countries is to eat pancakes and recall their childhood.
In the “military-to-civil” transition from “锅盔(helmet)” to “锅魁(Kuixing)”, renovation came first. In the Xiaonan street of Chengdu, the sourdough crusty pancake with pot-stewed meat is made after cutting the traditional wheat flour pancake in half with the bottom indiscrete, and according to the requirements of customers, stuffing meat and various vegetables in it. With the gap filled with pot-stewed meat, every pancake looks like having a beer belly.
Also, Yan Taipo pancake in Wenshu Monastery is popular for 20 years because of renovation. The beef pancake is the most expensive, because people can not only eat beef, but also carrots shreds, lettuce shreds and vermicelli. Her pancake is thinner and crisper than others with more fillings mixed on the spot. Carrots shreds, lettuce shreds and vermicelli are mixed with chili oil, moist and tasty. The combination of vegetables and beef make people feel refreshing instead of greasy. In general, pancakes are freshly baked and cold dishes are mixed presently, people can taste two opposite flavors. She has also renovated brown sugar pancake, freshly baked, with the dough mixed with oil noodles. It tastes like with better texture while the outer layer is still soft and crisp. After a bite of pancake, people can feel the warmth of brown sugar and see it flowing. It is indeed novel and refreshing.
The Birthplace of Pancake: Making a Stove of Softest and Crispest Station Troop Pancakes
The common snacks in Chengdu people’s life remain a constant theme on Junle Town, Pengzhou, the suburb of Chengdu and the birthplace and base camp of station troop pancake. Junle Town is a combine name of Juntun Town and Yuexingchang. Although the name of town has changed into Junle since 1990s, the pancakes here stuck to the name of their birthplace “Juntun (station troops)”. Nowadays, Junle Town, like many small town, has only one main street and there are many eateries of station troop pancakes alongside. Making pancakes is also called “beating pancakes” which probably comes from the sound of making them.
Every morning, people far away can hear “tap-tap-tap” the sound of rolling pin beating on the chopping board when making pancakes, which can be seen as another form of hawking. When rolling dough, the vendor quickly overturns ox-tongue-shaped facets, with another “bang” made by facets thrown on board. The sound makes people inexplicably feel satisfactory.
Lining up in front of eateries in Chengdu is a symbol of its popularity. When you walk down the street and decide to choose an eatery with delicious food, you would naturally choose one full of people waiting for food. It won’t be bad as long as people are willing to waste time on lining up. “Zhou Lequan Station Troop Pancake” is the most famous one with the longest history, which is ranked first by gourmets and therefore, deserves people lining up even in the street full of pancake shops.
Although “Zhou Lequan Station Troop Pancake” is not as large as other restaurants with several storefronts, but it has the longest history in the old street. Uncle Zhou of 68 year old has made pancakes for more than 50 years. Undoubtedly, as same as other extremely hot restaurants, “Zhou Lequan Station Troop Pancake” has temporary shutdowns every year. Uncle Zhou is getting older, so he shuts his restaurant and rests for 5 months ever year from 1st June to the National Day to avoid hot summers. But still, Uncle Zhou will recommend you to pancake restaurants run by his apprentices less than 20 meters away from his own.
Before 8 o’clock in the morning, there is an apprentice in front of the cooking bench busy with making pancakes in “Zhou Lequan Station Troop Pancake”, moving pots, looking out for fire and preparing for frying and baking. Another apprentice begins to tear off dough, quickly use rolling pin to roll the dough into a thin piece of ox-tongue-shaped facet, throw a lump of minced beef or pork and coat the dough all over, and again roll the dough with fillings into ox-tongue-shaped facet and rub another layer of fillings all over. They don’t even have to think about every move and every step.
As a master, it is crucial to control the heat and time of frying and baking. Beef and pork pancakes are customers’ favorites. The family members at home are waiting for pancakes for breakfast, some taking four or five pancakes at a time, some even six or seven. Those waiting in the line can’t keep their eyes off from the basket, eager and nervous, for fear of waiting for another pot when finally it is his/her turn.
It takes around 10 minutes in the whole process of making pancakes with more and more people standing in line. Most of them are gourmets attracted from other places. People living nearby usually wouldn’t come here on purpose, if not passing by after buying groceries.
Fresh beef pancake has a soft and crisp crust with beef of appropriate portion size, satisfying but not greasy. This is the most appetizing and crispest pancake we have ever tasted. If you think the beef pancake is too greasy with strong flavor, you can choose pork pancakes with tasty fillings, crisp crusts and appropriate tongue-numbing flavor. When you hungrily eat pancakes up and decide to pack up another seven or eight, Master Zhou will heartily remind you of opening wide these packages, because sealed pancakes will lost their crispness, but still taste good when cold.
Eat Pancakes Whenever You Want, Even If Squatting Alongside the Street.
In Junle Town of Pengzhou, there are more than ten thousand people doing business of station troop pancakes and pig’s large intestines noodles. In order to highlight the features of their own pancakes as well as meeting the need of consumers, every operator tries to improve on the basis of station troop pancakes. However, according to Secretary Qiang Li of Juntunchang community of Junle Town, the reason why station troop pancake tastes always the same is that they stick to the rules of material adoption and the method of baking. For example, station troop pancake persists in traditional method of “one layer of meat and one layer of oil” and puts lots of effort in the quality and ingredients of meat fillings. He said, “Our meat is pig’s leg meat with leaf fat so that it tastes soft and moist. The proportion and match of spices are their own secrets.”
According to Qiang Li, the fillings and dough is distributed pro rata. 125g dough weighs more than 150g after mixing with minced meat and after baking, the pancake weighs still 150g. “No one would come if there is only large dough without enough fillings. Doing business is striving for survival and we must take care of both the quality and taste. ”
In the Memory of Junle Town, “锅盔(helmet)” Continues to Be Used for a Long Time
There are lots of people fond of pancakes in everyday life, but few of them notice its names and writings. Is it “锅盔(helmet)” or “锅魁(Kuixing)”? There are various kinds of pancakes in Junle Town which are popular among people. Qiang Li introduced that in his childhood, there were signboard of “Station Troop Pancake” everywhere which was related to the naming history of stressing wars. At that time, there were only wheat flour pancakes and spicy salt pancakes. As the improvement of people’s living standard since 1990s, large numbers of pork pancakes and beef pancake spring up and “锅盔(helmet)”began to change into “锅魁(Kuixing)”.
It is found that “盔” is pronounced kuī. It is a phonogram which means vessel according to “皿” and pronounces kuī because of “灰”. Its original meaning is a kind of container like bowl and jar. For example, in Longkan Handbook, it says “盔belongs to jar.” “魁” is pronounced kuí.it is also a phonogram which means great according to “斗” and pronounces kuí because of “鬼”. It originally means spoon and also “the first, Kuixing or principal” such as “魁首(the leader)”. It’s interesting that there are still many “Kuixing Tower” in ancient towns of Sichuan. “Kuixing” has two meanings, one is the first star in the Big Dipper, and the other is the god in control of flourishing and dying of literature in Chinese mythology. From “锅盔(helmet)” to “锅魁(Kuixing)”, people in Junle Town has changed their focus of life from military to civil, and turned a traditional military food to a symbol of local thriving literature. Pancakes then transformed from “helmet” representing military position to “god” leading vicissitudes of literature. This civil snack in Junle Town, Pengzhou was becoming richer in culture, peace and elegance.
We usually aim to search for delicious food among folk food and it is also true for the station troop pancake. You can regard it as breakfast, lunch, afternoon tea, dinner, or night snack. It is a meal as well as a snack, so you can eat it whenever you want. At the same time, pancakes are also solid food to satisfy hunger. Entrepreneurs in Chengdu often recalled squatting alongside the street and buying a pancake with the remaining one coin. Half of pancakes those years could inspire people of that generation to fight for their dreams. We have lots and lots of stories to talk about pancakes.
Above all, one without a taste of pancakes is definitely not a Chengdu people.