Jianbing

6 May

The day I introduced Dan to jianbing, he told me it made his day – and it was only lunchtime. Now, we both love our food, but I reckon it’s fairly rare that I hear Dan say that about something like a 3.5rmb street vendor’s pancake.

But, to be fair, there is something about the jianbing, a thin pancake crepe cooked on a griddle over coals, an egg cracked on top, sometimes sprinkled with black sesame seeds, coriander and spring onions scattered over, flipped, sweet red bean paste, chili and a darker fermented bean sauce added, and then finally a deep-fried piece of crisp put in the middle, folded, chopped and handed to you in a plastic bag.


There’s jianbing sellers on most street corners; some who have set up real shopfront stalls and also mobile ones who ride around with their griddle and ingredients in a glass contraption on the back of their bike. Eaten at any time of the day – breakfast, morning tea, lunch, afternoon snack, dinner, or after a night drinking, this snack is loved by almost everyone. I love watching the technique of swirling the batter around the griddle – some sellers have a very watery, thin batter, while others have a thicker, stickier one. They all have a wooden paddle which they swirl it around the giant circular cooktop, using the same method to then spread the cracked egg over the crepe. Deft wrist flicks help them flip the pancake over halfway through the cooking process, almost perfectly every time.

I’ve eaten them from many vendors, at many times of the day and night. There’s a great permanent stall on Jiaodaokou Dajie which lets you choose between three types of pancake batter – millet, green bean or purple rice. This seller also lets you choose a big or two small wafers, and puts it in an environmentally-friendly paper bag for you to take away. It’s popular – I’ve had to line up most times I’ve gone there. I’ve seen others order meat sticks chopped up and put inside, as well as chicken that’s been roasting on a spit. But I’ve never diverged from the original path.

Another jianbing seller I went to often on a Tuesday or Thursday as a dinner before my Chinese language class added a slice of lettuce to the top of the wafer, which gave it a nice fresh flavour. I was told one night though by my Chinese teacher, after showing up with my jianbing and explaining it was dinner, that Chinese people would never eat a jianbing just for dinner! It’s considered more of a snack.

I’ve got to admit though, I have tried a not-so-good jianbing. I didn’t think it was possible to stuff up this near-perfect food. But a shop in Raffles City mall at Dongzhimen (no longer there actually) made me a jianbing that wasn’t up to scratch, and there was definitely a weird taste of metal in either the sauce, lettuce or pancake. It was often busy though, but when I was at the mall recently I’ve noticed a fries shop is about to open in it’s place.

Probably the best jianbing I’ve tried so far was the first one Dan tried (thankfully I seemed to choose well that day!). A man in a permanent stall near my work, who always seems to have a line for his jianbing, whether I’m going to work, walking there around lunchtime, or leaving work. He does something right…I loved the way he sprinkled black sesame seeds onto the egg. The favourite part for me though, was the chunky peanut pieces in the sweet red bean sauce, which added a whole other dimension to the regular jianbing. They didn’t overpower, just gave extra crunch and flavour, to a snack I never thought actually needed any extra flavour!

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One Response to “Jianbing”

  1. ge August 24, 2011 at 11:21 am #

    ahhh yes, the best at a cheap price! best soberer after a late night out AND as breakfast!

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