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September 27, 2016

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Legendary pancake maker has to close store to renew license

WU Gencheng, the legendary owner of the Ada Scallion Pancake, may have wowed the BBC in the UK, but gourmets who want to taste his popular and traditional breakfast offerings are in for a disappointment.

From today the store in the downtown area has had to suspend business while it renews its business license.

The chewy, flaky, and savory local delicacy made by 59-year-old Wu for the past three decades has been attracting people from both home and abroad who are prepared to queue for hours to sample his products.

Huangpu District Market Supervision and Management Bureau yesterday asked Wu to suspend his business because he had no license, according to the district government.

The authority said it would also ask the subdistrict to help Wu to find a new store nearby and apply for a new business license to reopen the popular business.

Wu said “jealous neighbors” had complained about “the hygiene condition of my store to the district authority,” and though he had to close the store, he would still accept orders from old customers.

“I can also take advantage of the suspension to take a rest because it is really exhausting as I grow older with sickness.” He has a hunchback due to an accident during childhood, made worse by years of bending over to make pancakes.

Wu began making scallion dough for his pancakes at 3am since setting up his private scallion pancake store on Maoming Road S. in 1982. Customers start waiting in front of the small store, which is in the backyard of his apartment, from 5am.

His scallion pancake, which follows the traditional recipe of including both fatty pork mince and scallion has been dubbed the most authentic Shanghai-style scallion pancake — a favorite traditional breakfast here. Wu is known to his customers as the “god of scallion pancake.”

“I set up the store only to make a living at the beginning, and now the only reason to hang on is to serve many of my old customers,” he said.

Wu attracted many expatriate customers as well as foreign tourists after the BBC interviewed him and filmed how the popular pancake was made in a documentary named “Taste of Shanghai.” The British celebrity chef Rick Stein praised Wu’s scallion pancake and said it took him “back to my childhood.”

“Many foreign customers bought over 30 pancakes every time to share with their friends and some of them have become my loyal customers,” Wu said proudly.

He learnt his craft from a famous local pastry cook in 1982 and said he still followed what his master taught him all those years ago.

His method is to stuff a big handful of scallion and a ball of fatty pork mince into the dough. He then kneads the dough quickly and fries and then bakes the pancake in a traditional oven. This process makes the pancake more flaky and crumbly, he said.

It takes 20 minutes to cook a batch of 10 scallion pancakes and he makes 300 pancakes every day, limiting each customer to 10 pieces. Each pancake costs 5 yuan.

“None of the steps can be skipped to make it quicker, otherwise the flavor will be different,” Wu said. He added he was able to make 600 pancakes every day when he was young and could punch the dough more efficiently.

“I fear my skills will be extinct one day when I am too old to make the delicacy,” Wu said. He supported his son to study and graduate from university with the pancake business, but his son does not want to take over from his father and now works for a local digital company.

“I’m looking for a reliable apprentice who is willing to stick to the tradition way to cook the scallion pancake, rather than (try to) make a fortune,” he said.

Wu said some supermarkets and restaurants wanted to hire him, but he refused because his pancakes “must be freshly baked and sold.”

“Many young people want to study the skills only to make money but I want to pass on my legacy and brand for generations.” Wu added he would test and observe the determination of those who want to become his apprentice before choosing a successor.

“It takes decades to establish the fame for a brand, but it can be destroyed overnight,” he said.


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