Pancakes and crêpes are a universal symbol of deliciousness: Just about every culture around the world has its own take on a flatbread made with batter that’s been griddled until warm and crisp-edged. But while there’ll always be a place for banana pancakes and strawberry blintzes, we think the world’s best versions turn up in the form of savory variations. From Vietnamese banh xeo to Russian blini, here are some of our favorite sugar-free pancakes.
1. Banh Xeo
Perfect banh xeo, or Vietnamese rice crêpes, should be impossibly thin and shatteringly crisp. They’re made with a combination of rice flour, water, and turmeric, filled with shrimp or pork and bean sprouts, and wrapped in lettuce or mustard leaf. Serve them with a sweet-and-sour fish-based sauce for dipping. Get the Banh Xeo recipe.
The French crêpes we’ve come to know well—round flour, egg, and milk sheets that are filled then folded into quarters—come from the southern part of Brittany. But in the north there’s the galette, made with buckwheat, filled with ham, cheese, spinach, or ratatouille, and folded into a square. For a true galette complete, crack an egg on top. Get the Galettes Bretonnes recipe.
Legend has it that pizza evolved out of the scallion pancake, which was brought to Italy from China by Marco Polo. We can’t corroborate this, but we can confirm that the humble flatbread makes for an ideal breakfast alongside soy milk or rice porridge. (Or try it wrapped around Egg and Pork Floss!) Get the Scallion Pancakes recipe.
Take a trip to the Ligurian coast with this humble pancake that’s prepared with nothing more than chickpea flour, water, and olive oil. It’s a fixture in Genoa, Italy, where it’s referred to as farinata and infused with rosemary, as well as in Nice, France, where it’s called socca, and often served on the street in paper cones and washed down with cold rosé. Get our Socca recipe.
If you’ve ever had Ethiopian or Eritrean food, then you’ll know injera, the uniquely spongy and sour flatbread made of teff flour that serves the triple function of plate, utensil, and sustenance. It can be tricky to make because of its obscure ingredients and fermenting process—this illustrated step-by-step injera recipe will help. But you can also make a similar Somalian flatbread called canjeero or lahooh that’s a lot easier and just as tasty. Get the Somali Injera recipe.
Potato pancakes aren’t merely a Hanukkah specialty; in addition to their significance in Jewish culture (where they’re known as latkes), they also hold a historical place in most Central and Eastern European cuisines. Enjoy the grated potato flapjacks simply with sour cream, or gussy them up as hors d’oeuvres with smoked salmon, crème fraîche, and caviar. Get the Latkes recipe.
Dosa, the fermented crêpe that’s a specialty of South India, comes in many forms. One of our favorite variations is the rava dosa, which is made with semolina in addition to rice flour, but the standard version is also great. Serve either kind plain alongside chutney, or top it with a variety of vegetables, like potato and chickpea masala. Get the Dosa recipe.
Unlike the standard American pancake, this Japanese food is composed of savory ingredients such as eggs, dashi, and shredded cabbage, and the batter gets mixed with the likes of shrimp, squid, octopus, and/or pork belly before griddling (really, almost any protein you have on hand works, so it’s great for using leftovers). It’s topped with bonito flakes, Kewpie mayonnaise, and a sweet okonomiyaki sauce. Get the Okonomiyaki recipe.
Unlike most pancakes and crêpes, Russian blini are prepared from a batter that’s been leavened with yeast. Although wheat flour is most popular, blini can be made with all kinds of flour, including buckwheat, millet, oatmeal, and our favorite, cornmeal. Caviar is the traditional topper. Get our Cornmeal Blini recipe.