In my well-traveled opinion, breakfast is a meal best served savory, and that includes pancakes. While savory varieties of American pancakes aren’t super common, almost every other cuisine in the world has at least one variety of pancake or crepe rich with traditional and distinctive toppings that give the ol’ fruit and maple combo syrup a serious run for their money. From Italy’s fluffy chickpea farinata and Ethiopia’s spongy, fermented injera to crisp Korean jeon and flaky Moroccan m'semen, there’s a savory pancake for just about every palate on the planet. Here’s an extensive sampling for your savory pancake bucket list.
1. Bing: China and Taiwan
There’s a wide variety of savory pancake bings. Some are thick and others are thin, and there are all kinds of options for savory fillings. My personal favorite is Taiwanese dan bing, which is a thin, wheat-based pancake filled with green onions, griddle-fried atop a thin layer of scrambled eggs, filled with melty cheese slices, rolled, sliced, and dipped in soy or hoisin sauce.
2. Jeon: Korea
Like bing, there are many types of jeon. Savory fillings like kimchi, vegetables, meat, and fish are incorporated into a rich batter of egg and wheat flour and fried crisp to be dunked in choganjang—a Korean staple that combines soy sauce, rice vinegar, spices, and sesame seeds.
3. Banh Xeo: Vietnam
Although it looks like an omelet, ban xeo, which translates literally to “sizzling cake” is usually made from rice flour and coconut milk made golden with turmeric, not eggs. Filling options are just about endless, but they’re traditionally stuffed with shrimp, pork, green onion, and bean sprouts and served with fresh lettuce leaves, herbs, and nuoc cham—a garlicky lime sauce—for dipping.
4. Roti Canai: Malaysia
Roti canai are buttery, flaky wheat pancakes popular throughout South and Southeast Asia. In Malaysia, roti canai is traditionally served alongside a warm, richly-spiced dhal or curry for dunking.
5-7. Dosa, Uttapam, and Thalipeeth: India
India has a vast array of savory pancakes and flatbreads to offer, but dosa, uttapam, and thalipeeth can be made meals on their own. Uttapam is made from fermented lentil and rice flour with veggies like tomatoes, onion, chiles, and cabbage mixed right into the batter before being fried to crisp on the outside, and served with sambar and chutney for dipping. Dosas are also made from a fermented rice batter, griddled into a huge, ultra-thin crepes that can be eaten plain or stuffed with ingredients like spiced potatoes (for masala dosa). Thalipeeth (pictured at the top) is a multigrain flatbread with fresh coriander, chillies, curry leaves, and other herbs and spices kneaded directly into the dough before frying.
8. Injera: Ethiopia
Injera is a thin, spongy pancake traditionally made from fermented teff flour that tastes a bit like sourdough. It’s only griddled on one side, so the bottom is smooth and the top gets is dappled and porous, making it perfect for soaking up saucy Ethiopian main dishes.
9. M'semen: Morocco
These buttery, flaky North African pancakes are made with semolina dough that’s stretched thin and pan-fried. They’re usually eaten drenched with butter or stuffed with savory, spiced ground meat.
10. Martabak: Thailand, Indonesia, Singapore, and India
Martabak gets its name from the Arabic word for “folded.” An elastic wheat dough is stretched thin and fried up to a crisp in sunflower or coconut oil before being filled with eggs, spiced meat, or an herbaceous vegetable filling, folded into a square, and sliced.
11. Potato Pancakes: Throughout Europe and the Middle East
In Ireland, they’re boxty. In Hungary they’re tócsni. In the Middle East, they’re latkes. Regardless of the name, pancakes made with grated potatoes and/or potato flour are delicious, especially when fried up extra-crispy with onions and spices and topped with a generous dollop of sour cream.
12. Serabi: Indonesia
The savory variation of these bite-sized pancakes are made with rice flour and coconut and topped with grated cheddar, mayonnaise, cream cheese, or meat.
13. Pikelets: Australia and New Zealand
The savory version of these fluffy, bite-sized pancakes is served with smoked salmon or trout, creme fraiche, cream cheese, or cottage cheese, or vegetables and cheddar.
14. Blini: Eastern Europe
Variations on the blini include blinchiki and blintzes. They can be small and bite-sized or big and crepe-y, depending on where you’re eating them, but they’re generally made with tangy, yeasted wheat flour, and either pan-fried or baked. Savory versions come with caviar or smoked salmon, sour cream or creme fraiche, or cheeses and vegetables.
15. Farinata: Italy
This Italian pancake is made with chickpea flour and olive oil and fried until it’s crisp on the outside and soft and custardy on the inside. Fresh rosemary, sea salt, and pepper are often added directly to the batter, and in Genoa, tasty variations can include onions, artichokes, or fish.
16. Okonomiyaki: Japan
The name for this savory griddle-cake comes from “okonomi,” meaning “what you like” and “yaki,” meaning “grill.” A wide range of ingredients that can include everything from seafood and vegetables to mochi, eggs, cheese, and noodles are mixed into into a batter made with grated nagaimo (a type of yam), then griddle-cooked into a rich, creamy cake and topped with a variety of savory sauces and toppings like scallions, chilis, bonito or nori flakes, or pickled ginger.
17-18. Arepas and Cachapas: Venezuela and Colombia
Arepas and cachapas both are traditional roadside pancake fare in Venezuela and Colombia. Cachapas are made with sweet corn flour and a bit of sugar, griddled into flat cakes, and served with savory queso de mano, or handmade cheese. Arepas are made with white corn masa folded around ingredients like cheese and refried beans to seafood, meat, and fried plantains.
19. Pupusas: El Salvador
Like arepas and cachapas, pupusas are pancakes made with masa, but this Salvadorean delight gets stuffed with fillings like queso, refried beans, or seasoned meat prior to cooking yielding little pockets of bliss that are soft and creamy on the inside and crisp on the outside. They’re traditionally served with curtido, a lightly fermented cabbage slaw.
20. Tiganites: Greece
The savory version of Greek pancakes are small, light and fluffy, and are often made with onions, vegetables, greek yogurt or cheese, and fresh herbs.
21. Borlengo: Italy
The Italian borlengo is an ultra-thin crepe that’s topped with savory treats like rosemary, garlic, olive oil, sausage, pancetta, and grated Parmesan before being folded into quarters and eaten by hand. They were once considered the food of the poor, but lucky for the rich, it’s cool for everyone to eat them now.