玉米烙 Flat Corn Pancake
Pinyin: yù mǐ lào
More corn is grown around the world than any other grain. By producing over 330 million tons of corn a year, the USA is responsible for nearly half of the world’s corn production, while China comes in a distant second at just over 150 million tons. Only a tiny portion of the corn crop goes towards human consumption. Nearly half of the US crop goes towards feeding livestock and almost a quarter is used to produce ethanol.
American settlers started using corn as a staple food in the 1800s and soon after began suffering, in epidemic proportions, to a disease called pellagra which was first identified in 1735. The disease characterized most seriously by skin lesions, sensitivity to sunlight, aggressive behavior, and insomnia is caused by a lack of niacin in the diet.
The relationship between pellagra and corn wasn’t proven until the mid 1920’s when scientists identified that corn is not a source of niacin for humans unless the corn has been processed using nixtamalization. Native Americans did not suffer from pellagra because they discovered that soaking corn in an alkali solution of lime and ash kept people from getting sick, this process later became known as nixtamalization. Today pellagra is still seen in parts of poor regions of the world including Africa, Asia (including parts of China), and other developing areas.
The corn dish above is a popular “junk food” served at many restaurants. The corn is first mixed with starch (cornstarch works) and then placed into a frying pan with a little oil and a little water if necessary. After several minutes the corn is fried into a delicate pancake like shape which is then served with a small amount of sugar and mayonnaise on top.
The dish is sweet, but most of the sweetness is derived from the corn (not the sugar on top). The mayonnaise adds a different texture and a savory flavor that takes this dish from good to great. Unfortunately once this dish cools down the corn gets soft and the dish rapidly loses it’s appeal.
If you find yourself drawn to french fries and enjoy the occasional donut this dish will be a satisfying addition at a meal. It’s great for children since they’ll savor the sweetness and they can eat it with their hands. This isn’t a special dish in either ingredients or style, but it’s another example of how Chinese cuisine has taken something basic and created a unique food that isn’t normally seen in Western cuisine. Experience corn in a new light, and enjoy it.