Friday, December 30, 2011

Jian Bing (spicy crepes): A step-by-step guide to my favorite Beijing street food

My first apartment in Beijing was in a classy neighborhood near Chaoyang Park, with lots of children and no nearby street food presence at all. Really, when I came home in the small hours of the morning, I'd have to order McDonald's delivery if I wanted anything to eat at all.

After about a year and a half I moved to a much smaller apartment near the Worker's Stadium, where I was surrounded by lively bars and all the street food I could possibly want. There was a chuan'r guy selling grilled skewers, boiled skewers, and fried skewers of everything from cumin/chili lamb chunks to whole chili peppers. My personal favorite, though, were the jian bing stands that dotted the street in front of my apartment selling spicy crepes.

First you take the crepe batter and pour a bit on the grill.

Jian Bing - 02

Then you spread it into a circle with this little tool. So far this process isn't much different from ordering from a crepe stand in Paris.

Jian Bing - 03

Then you crack a fresh egg onto the center of the crepe, break the yolk, and spread it around so it completely covers the crepe.

Jian Bing - 05

Next you flip the crepe over so the egg side is on the grill, then brush the top of the crepe with chili oil and sweet flower sauce (tian mian jian, the sweet brown bean sauce seen in the front. Sometimes it's called duck sauce or brown bean sauce or a million other names. Look for 甜面酱.) You can omit the chili oil if you don't like spicy, but I love it.

Jian Bing - 07

Then you sprinkle a small handful of diced spring onions and cilantro over the top. (You can omit the cilantro if you have that issue where you think cilantro tastes like industrial soap).

Jian Bing - 09

Now this part is crucial, and is also the part that's been stymieing my efforts to reproduce this snack at home: Then you put a small sheet of fried dough in the middle of the crepe, fold the sides over it, then crack the ends of the fried dough sheet a quarter of the way up, fold the ends of the crepe over the dough, then fold the whole thing in half again to make a little pocket.

Jian Bing - 10

Jian Bing - 11

Jian Bing - 12

Then, if you're Mrs. Hu, who owned the stall closest to my door, you put a piece of paper around the thing, drop the whole thing in a plastic bag, and sell it to me for 3 yuan (47 cents).

These are truly magical end-of-the-night foods: A little sweet, a little spicy, a little savory, a little chewy, a little crispy, a little crunchy, a little fresh and a little fried, and it all comes together in this mind-blowing, savory mouthful.

Note: Jian bing are also an excellent and popular breakfast-on-the-go for early morning commuters, but not for me because I only wake up that early if there's a fire.

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