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6 Sep 2014

Jianbing - CHINA’S FAVORITE STREET FOOD, Beijing

Beijing [北京] • 6 SEPTEMBER 2014
Jianbing (煎饼) have long been a Chinese breakfast staple. With streets bustling in the early morning with vendors selling a true cornucopia of snacks, with crispy flat bread has become as popular with visitors as it is with locals. You can’t get far in Beijing without catching a whiff of the heavenly fragrance of pan-fried dough and egg that defines jianbing (煎饼), one the city’s most popular snacks. 

What is the taste? “The taste,” -cut the jianbing in half before deploying it into a plastic bag, “is just like yin and yang. You need to balance the saltiness with sweetness.” 


To achieve that perfect harmony of flavor, soybean paste added instead of hoisin sauce the quick and inexpensive breakfast (they normally run about RMB 2.5 per jianbing).
“Hoisin sauce is too sweet and thin. Soy bean paste is perfect and holds the dried chilies together well.”


Jianbing is found on nearly every street corner, especially outside of subway stations or tourist attractions. Some are more popular than others. For instance, at a Shandong-style jianbing stand in Zhongguancun, northwest Beijing, people can expect to wait in line several minutes—this jianbing is hot.


Jianbings originated in China’s northeast, where grains and cereals are common, though they can extend down to northern Jiangsu (you won’t, however, find them most places out west). The most common version of jianbing sold in Beijing hail from Shandong Province, and are made from the aforementioned batter of wheat and coarse grains (beans, cereals, etc.)


Similar are the jianbings sourced from Hebei Province and northeast China, nearby Shandong. The other main family of bing hails from the nearby city of Tianjin, where it is sometimes called a jianbing guozi (煎饼果子, with guozi referring to the youtiao stuffing). Tianjing jianbings are traditionally made from green mung bean flour, a gluten-free ingredient used to make the transparent “glass noodles.” The composition of the batter is the best way to trace your jianbing’s ancestry – when it comes to level of grease or thickness, it’s a matter of your cook’s preference, and all bets are off.


According to legends, jianbing was invented nearly 2,000 years ago during the Three Kingdoms period (220-280) when Zhuge Liang, Liu Bei’s chancellor in Shandong Province, was faced with feeding an army of soldiers who’d lost their woks. Zhuge Liang ordered the cooks to evenly mix water with wheat flour and spread the dough onto a copper-made griddle suspended over a fire. The dish lifted his soldiers’ morale and they fought their way out of an ambush. Since then, jianbing has been passed down through generations of families living in Shandong.

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