And finally, my favourite pastime when I travel – a visit to the local museum. And the first food related museum I have visited no less!
The ancient Silk Road carried commerce from the far ends of old world to China. Started with the Han dynasty, when silk was brought to the Middle East through the land route cutting across plateaus of Tibet and Nepal, and reaching the zenith during the Tang dynasty when it reached the northeastern part of China, ending in the ancient city of Zhou Cun 周村.
And together with Silk Road, caravans of traders from all over the world descended into China bring their food cultures. One of the staples they introduced to the Chinese palate was naan bread, called locally as 馕. This was called 胡饼 or literally “bread brought by bearded barbarians”.
Zhoucun pancake has a history of more than 1,800 years, and its origin can be traced back to the Eastern Han Dynasty and the naan brought by bearded barbarians. And as it developed over the years, it became the Zhoucun pancake that we are familiar with today.
周村烧饼博物馆 Zhoucun Pancake Museum
周村烧饼博物馆 Zhoucun Pancake Museum was opened in 2009 to showcase this well-known street food.
On the 6th year of the reign of Emperor Guangxu (1880) of the Qing Dynasty, 聚合斋 “Juehezhai” Bakery was founded by native Guo Yunlong 郭云龙. But Guo Senior did not invent the current form of the “Zhoucun sesame seed cake”, the official name of the Zhoucun pancake.
Legend has it that the sone of Guo Yunlong, Guo Haiting 郭海亭 was procuring tea leaves from 泉祥茶庄 Quanxiang Tea House when the owner Meng Luochuan 孟雒川 presented Guo with a snack from his old shop in Hangzhou. Guo was intrigued by the rectangular sesame-coated flaky biscuit that went well with the tea. He went back to Juehezhai and experimented with the recipe and baking time, and eventually came up with the Zhoucun Flaky Pancake 周村大酥烧饼.
Meng Luochuan’s father, Meng Chuanshan 孟传珊, founded Quanxiang Tea House on Zhoucun Main Street in 1835 and is still operating at the same spot after so many years. After Meng Luochuan inherited his father’s business, in order to ensure the supply of goods, ensure the quality, and improve the market competitiveness, he successively established his own tea farms in Hangzhou, Suzhou, Fuzhou and other places, forming an one-stop business operation model of production and sales.
After the successful creation of Zhoucun pancakes, somehow it made its way to Beijing and somehow Empress Dowager Cixi had a taste of it. The Qing court named the pancakes produced by Juhezhai as Royal Commission to be sent as a tribute to the Imperial Courts subsequently.
In the 1930s and 1940s, Guo Haiting and his brother Guo Junchuan took over Juehezhai. They aggressively expanded the business as their popularity grew as a result of the Royal Commission, and exported their products to all parts of the country. However they were also very generous to teach the method of making pancakes to their peers. Hence, seven others joined the ranks of making the Zhoucun pancakes.
In 1956, Guo Fanglin 郭芳林, the descendent of Guo Yunlong, joined Zhoucun Food Factory 周村食品厂 (now Zhoucun Pancake Co., Ltd. 山东周村烧饼有限公司) armed with his knowledge of the ancestral craftsmanship and secret recipes handed down over generations when the factory was nationalised under the Communist rule. This ended nearly 80 years of private enterprise under the Guo family.
However, the nationalisation experiment failed and in the 80s the enterprise became privatised once again. This time, armed with modern management and marketing methods, the trademark of “Zhoucun sesame seed cake” was registered and no one else can claim the name of Zhoucun pancakes.
Other parts of the museum showcased the production methods of the pancakes, first with the display of old tools and oven that were used during the Qing dynasty. They even preserved the entire facade of the old stores and warehouses where they stored the flour.
In 1980, in the second attempt to privatise, the automated machine was introduced.
And with modern mass manufacturing came modern packaging. Besides the traditional brown paper bags, they now came in nice gift boxes and tin cans to preserve the crispiness of the pancakes over a long period of time.
The museum basement is an actual production factory line where fresh pancakes are made daily. You can visit this giftshop to buy freshly made pancakes.
Besides pancakes, there’s an interesting section that showcased relics and fragments of ceramics and porcelains that are found when they renovated the factory and current site of the museum. Porcelain fragments as far back as Song dynasty were found in layers of soil under the old buildings.
OK, that’s it. Zibo is a nice city, and I only had time to spend at Zhoucun. There’s also the Zibo Museum, the Ancient State of Qi Museum, and Ancient Chariots Museum (a really interesting one with a whole burial ground of horses with their chariots). Too bad, no time.
Zhoucun Series 周村特辑
- #1 Northeast End of Silk Road 丝绸之路东北端
- #2 Dye Houses 大染坊
- #3 Zhoucun Pancake 周村烧饼
- #4 Zhoucun Pancake Museum 周村烧饼博物馆
Date visited : Dec 2021