(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.