street food beijing: jianbing 煎饼

(This is going to be the first in what will hopefully be a series on street food in Beijing.)

I love street food: it’s one of the best ways to get right to the heart of a culture’s cuisine.

Beijing offers many fascinating opportunities to experience street food. It might be a city bursting with fancy skyscrapers with the names of international architects attached, but even in the heart of Beijing’s bustling business districts, humble, homey street food can be found.

One of the most common examples of street food is jianbing (煎饼). Found on street carts all around the city, it can also be found in little convenience stores and supermarkets if you’re in dire need of your jianbing fix. It can even be found in Wal-Mart.

Jianbing is made on the spot. It consists of a thin crepe placed on a hot surface. An egg is cracked over it and quickly swirled around. As the egg cooks, cilantro and spring onions will be scattered around it. At this point the jianbing maker might ask you if you would like a bit of spicy sauce on it. The spicy sauce isn’t that spicy but provides a nice tang.

The last ingredient is a large fried dough crisp, of a similar consistency to the wonton strips that would come with a Chinese take-away back in the States. The crisp is placed in the middle of the eggy, oniony crepe. Finally, the crepe is folded over the whole thing.

At the going rate of 2.5 – 3 RMB for one, jianbing makes for a great and quick breakfast. True, there is nothing healthy about it, but it smells so good in the morning that I usually can’t resist a quick one with a cup of warm soy milk.

The best 煎饼, in my opinion , has two things at make it truly great. One is that the fried crisp in the middle is freshly fried and extremely crunchy. Frankly, a soggy crisp in the midst of the jianbing makes for a somewhat disappointing experience, and once you’ve had the crunchy ones you can never go back to the second-rate soggy ones. Secondly, a good jianbing includes cilantro in the mix. Many jianbing vendors don’t include cilantro, but I find that it packs an added punch with each bite.

Below are two pictures from a jianbing cart that we found in the Qianmen neighborhood. On the subway ride to Qianmen, we sat next to a girl who was eating qianbing and it smelled so good that we grabbed some when we got off at our subway stop.


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11 Comments on "street food beijing: jianbing 煎饼"

  1. Cedric
    04/02/2008 at 12:37 am Permalink

    Man, this looks really excellent! Is it the same idea as a 葱油饼, just a lot thinner? In any case, it looks so delicious. Street food is totally what I am looking forward to!

  2. fiona
    04/02/2008 at 11:25 am Permalink

    It is similar and yes, thinner, but 葱油饼 isn’t folded up the way that 煎饼 is.

    When you’re here I will totally take you on the street food tour of Beijing!

  3. Ed
    06/02/2008 at 2:53 am Permalink

    That looks delicious. I think in Portland we call it scallion pancakes. They serve it in a high end chinese restaurant in the art district. I’m sooooo hungry right now!

  4. fiona
    12/02/2008 at 12:04 am Permalink

    Ed, aren’t scallion pancakes 葱油饼? 煎饼 is a little bit different from scallion pancakes. However, now that I’m thinking about it, I’m craving 葱油饼, I haven’t had those in ages.

  5. tom
    14/02/2008 at 12:58 am Permalink

    Calvin Trillin had a piece in the New Yorker a few months ago about street food in Singapore. It was very well done. I looked for it online but it hasn’t been posted anywhere.

    For now, we’ll have to be content with arepas at the Red Hook ballfields!

  6. sarah
    29/02/2008 at 1:41 pm Permalink

    ahhh…so envious. the one thing i cannot get here (okay there are many things, but none that i drool over quite so much) are jian-bings.

    i added you to me blogroll!

  7. Scott
    09/03/2008 at 10:51 pm Permalink

    Gotta disagree with you, Fio… I love my jianbing when it goes all soft in the middle. Makes it so much more fun to eat.

  8. vera
    02/11/2008 at 11:20 pm Permalink

    Back in Tianjin, we used to take that as breakfast too, though a little longer name for it “煎饼果子”.
    The very crunchy stuff is often to be “果子” or “油条”.
    Now, I’m back in Fuzhou, no more that appetizing food, kinda sad.

  9. DN Dartmouth '12
    22/12/2010 at 9:14 pm Permalink

    Awesome! After spending 3 months in Beijing and coming back just last week, you’ve already made me want one NOW!


  1. Tianjin Snacks 02/05/2009 at 10:52 pm

    [...] guidebooks and websites terribly overrated. The only thing I didn’t manage to try was the jian bing 煎饼, that ...

  2. [...] ($0.25). (The photos below come from two blog posts I found about jianbing – check them out here and ...

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