The traditional Christian feast day before the start of Lent on Ash Wednesday is celebrated as a chance to eat well before the 40 days of sacrifices in the lead-up to Easter.
Shrove Tuesday, which falls on February 21 this year, is also a great excuse – as if one were needed – to eat pancakes, as they usually combine butter and eggs, rich foods that were historically given up for the season of reflection.
That also explains why, in the United States, Shrove Tuesday is better known as Mardi Gras – or “Fat Tuesday.”
The Shrove Tuesday tradition of eating pancakes, celebrated by Christians of all denominations, dates back to Anglo-Saxon times.
That’s when a “pancake bell” – yes, really – would be rung to call Christians to confession, where they’d be absolved from their sins, or “shriven,” as they used to say.
But pancakes – in all sorts of forms, made from all sorts of ingredients – have graced tables around the world for millennia, across every culture and creed.
Although finding a definitive pancake definition is difficult, and doubtless contentious, here are some of the very best pancakes around the world.
Socca, France and Italy
Hailing from the regions of Provence in France and Liguria in Italy, where they are known as farinata, these pancakes are simply crafted from chickpea flour, water, olive oil and seasoning.
Traditionally cooked in large copper pans of oil placed in wood-fired ovens, these irresistible treats are a great gluten-free alternative to pizza. Socca is also a street food favorite in cities like Nice, where its served in paper cones and dusted with black pepper.
In Russia and other Slavic countries, these thin, round pancakes made with buckwheat flour and yeast usually come in bigger versions than those seen in many fine dining restaurants, where they’re often topped with caviar or smoked salmon.
A staple of Russian cuisine, Blinis tend to come to the fore around Shrove Tuesday in a week of celebrations called Maslenitsa, or ‘“Pancake Week”. Pancakes every day for a week? We love the sound of it.
Hemp protein pancakes, Switzerland
Dietary restrictions and preferences have seen countless takes on pancakes, but few can rival the delicious creativity of hemp protein pancakes from Michelin-starred chef Sven Wassmer at Verve by Sven at Switzerland’s Grand Resort Bad Ragaz.
Switzerland is known for its healthy breakfasts, and Wassmer’s gluten-free pancakes featuring hemp protein instead of flour, with toppings including bananas, almonds, maple syrup – and maybe just a touch of whipped cream – certainly fit the bill.
Fluffy pancakes, Japan
The Japanese name for this popular treat gives them away. “Hottokeki” – yes, hotcakes. These super fluffy, extra-tall beauties have taken Instagram by storm thanks to their souffle-like structure and texture, created by using egg whites in a meringue that’s added to the batter.
Top them with anything from berries to fresh cream, maple syrup to bacon. Just don’t forget to post a picture before you tuck in.
Scallion pancakes, China
Unlike most pancakes, these fragrant, crispy triangles are actually made from dough, rather than batter, bringing about a crispy, flaky and chewy texture.
Easy enough to make at home, some people like to dip them in sauces with soy or chili. But they’re great just as they are – hot from the pan or wok, flaky with the subtle kick of scallions. Regional variations include those from Shanghai which feature pork fat for extra decadence.
French crepes would take some beating in the Pancake Hall of Fame – if there’s not one, there should be. These ultra-thin pancakes originated in Brittany in northwest France, way back in the 13th century, but have since become beloved the world over.
They can be either sweet with fillings like fruit preserves, syrups or chocolate, or savory, famously with ham and cheese, melted to perfection.
Watching them being prepared is true culinary theater, as the batter is slowly coaxed to perfect consistency before being expertly folded over.
Buttermilk pancakes, USA
Thick and fluffy, drenched in maple syrup and often served with the contrast of salty, crispy bacon, few pancakes rival the decadence of a classic stack of American pancakes.
American recipes for pancakes date back to 1796 and “American Cookery’” by Amelia Simmons, even if her suggestion of “Indian Slapjacks,” made from cornmeal, have largely been forgotten.
Today, the use of buttermilk in these classics leads to a finer crumb, extra fluffiness and a subtle tang. Wherever they’re served, just make sure to pile them high.
A celebrated dish from Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, Latkes contain another uncommon ingredient in the form of potato. But it wasn’t always so, as until the popularity of spuds grew in Eastern Europe in the 19th century, the recipe was all about cheese.
Today grated potato, onions and eggs combine to make gloriously crispy fritters that are topped with sour cream, apple sauce, lox and more.
Masala Dosa, India
Potato also features in this terrific Indian take on a pancake that can reach an extraordinary size. A popular breakfast treat in south India, but eaten throughout the day elsewhere, the batter is made from fermented rice and lentils, while the fragrant filling features potatoes with mustard seeds, coconut, turmeric and coriander.
They’re served with chutneys, which vary throughout the country, such as coconut, tomato, coriander or peanut, making for brilliant communal eating.
Sugar and lemon pancakes, England
Traditional pancakes in England would quite possibly make an American wince. Small and thin, they’re a million miles from the maple syrup-covered stacks so beloved in the US.
But there’s no doubting their own simple, elegant charms – assuming that you’ve managed to keep them in the pan, after tossing them in the air.
There’s really only one way to have them on Pancake Tuesday, as Brits call it: with a squeeze of lemon juice and sprinkling of granulated sugar.
Pancakes with Peking duck, China
China’s second entry comes in the form of the classic gossamer-thin translucent flour pancakes used to wrap slow-cooked Peking duck.
Plain flour, water and salt are the humble ingredients used to make the dough, before the pancakes are gently cooked in a steamer basket.
Then layer in your duck, add scallions and either hoisin or sweet bean sauce. At Woo Cheong Tea House in Hong Kong, Okinawa brown sugar is added to the duck sauce, making them even more irresistible.
OK, it’s technically more of an unleavened flatbread, but beloved Ethiopian staple injera, a spongy and slightly sour creation made from teff flour, also ticks our pancake boxes. Here flour is mixed with water and ersho, similar to a sourdough starter, triggering fermentation.
This mixture is then poured in a pan or onto a traditional circular griddle called a mitad, ensuring a smooth underside and porous top perfect for scooping and soaking up sauces and other flavors.
Galettes, Brittany, France
From the wild and beautiful Brittany region of northwest France, Breton galettes are a take on pancakes that make locals exceedingly proud.
These delicacies are made with healthy buckwheat flour folded over into squares to envelop not-so-healthy savory fillings such as ham, eggs, bacon, or cheese.
Galettes are great when paired with a glass of apple cider – but don’t forget that in France, it contains alcohol.
Dutch Baby, USA
Particularly popular in the Washington state, these unusually named pancakes are also known as a Bismarck or a popover – while Brits would be forgiven for calling them Yorkshire puddings.
But there’s no confusion over the cooking method – they’re baked in metal pans in the oven. In the US, the puffy pancakes are often topped with butter, sugar and a squeeze of lemon or syrup.
Cholermus – Switzerland
The Canton of Obwalden sits right in the heart of Switzerland and is home to these unusual pancakes which are shredded before being served, usually at dinner.
Cholermus is cooked in butter and when they’re nearly done, the treats are cut up and fried until a perfect golden brown. Serve with sugar, a dusting of cinnamon and apple sauce. And probably repeat.
These small and fluffy pancakes are as proudly Australian as Vegemite. However, they’re not to be confused with a British dish of the same name.
Down under, baking powder is added to the batter to make them rise. Once golden, they’re stacked and traditionally topped with cream, sugar and fresh strawberries – or strawberry jelly.
Kimchi pancakes, Korea
One of the world’s most delicious savory pancakes comes from Korea, and its hot, spicy and crispy combination of ingredients will have you coming back for more.
Kimchi is the beloved traditional Korean side dish of fermented vegetables, added to flour, eggs and more to make a batter. Once pan-fried, unique flavors combine into a sizzling, crunchy pancake, perfect for dipping – or eating just as it comes.
Finally, to Venezuela and their fabulous thin, cheesy corn pancakes known as cachapas. The use of fresh or frozen corn provides the batter with a defined sweetness, while fresh cheese and butter make for irresistible fillings.
The key, as with almost our global selection of pancakes, is in the way they’re cooked. Fry them until they’re golden and crispy before letting the queso de mano cheese melt in the middle.