A scrumptious breakfast gets us up and running

WHEN it comes to the authentic Chinese breakfast, jianbing is king on the streets. For only four or five yuan (US$0.6-0.7), you can enjoy a hot, delicious breakfast on the go.

WHEN it comes to the authentic Chinese breakfast, jianbing is king on the streets. For only four or five yuan (US$0.6-0.7), you can enjoy a hot, delicious breakfast on the go.

Written as (煎饼), jianbing is often translated as “fried pancake,” but in reality, it’s more a crepe than a thick buttermilk pancake.

Traditional jianbing is made with batter, eggs and sauces. Toppings like finely chopped green onion, youtiao (fried breadstick) and baocui (a kind of crispy fritter) are added for extra flavor and texture. Vendors now also offer sausages, bacon, lettuce and even bean curd sheets to make the quick breakfast more filling. An ideal companion to a freshly made jianbing is soy milk.

The popularity of jianbing extends beyond its homeland. The pancake is now available in cities like New York, where shops like Flying Pig Jianbing, Jianbing Man and Jianbing Company sell the street breakfast for US$8-10, adding variations like kung pao chicken pancake, tuna melt and Peking duck.

Though pan-fried batter and egg is the most common kind of jianbing in China, different versions are eaten across the country.

Shandong jianbing

The word jianbing originated in Shandong Province, where the crispy cracker-like pancake is made from a flour mixture containing corn, sorghum and millet. The people in Shandong eat jianbing by wrapping scallions inside and serving with soups and other dishes. Ingredients like pork, fried chili and fried small yellow croaker can also be added.

Legend has it that Shandong jianbing was created during the Three Kingdoms period (AD 220-280), when Zhu Geliang, chancellor of the Shu Han state, ordered the cooks to mix water with wheat flour and make a batter that could be cooked over a flat griddle to feed soldiers when woks were unavailable.

The modern version of Shandong jianbing traces back to the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644) in Tai’an. The griddle is called aozi (鏊子).

Tianjin’s jianbing guozi

From the northern city of Tianjin comes jianbing guozi, a variation of the Shandong pancake.

It’s the more popular version found on the streets of Shanghai.

The softer, chewier jianbing guozi is made of mung bean flour instead of wheat flour, and features fillings and toppings of eggs, youtiao or baocui, chopped scallions, cilantro and fermented bean curd sauce.

To make the bing part, the vendor dishes a spoonful of batter onto a griddle and spread it out evenly with T-shaped wooden spatula. One or two eggs are cracked on top and crushed with the spatula to spread evenly over the pancake. Green onion is also sprinkled on top.

Next, the vendor lifts the edges carefully and flips the bing so the side with eggs cooks on the griddle. The youtiao or baocui are added alongside the sauces. The final step of making a jianbing guozi is wrapping it and cutting it in half.

The word guozi refers to the youtiao or baocui filling. Traditional jianbing guozi contain no extra fillings or toppings like sausages or dried meat floss, which are more common in places outside Tianjin.

Baojiaobu

Baojiaobu, which translates into “foot wrapping cloth,” is a Shanghai style jianbing that wraps youtiao in a thin egg pancake, with sweet fermented flour sauce, scallions, cilantro and chili sauce on top.

Traditional baojiaobu doesn’t contain fancy fillings like meats and vegetables, though modern adaptations have brought more dazzling options to the local specialty. On the B1 level of Raffles City in People’s Square, the Yangwang Baojiaobu eatery has been attracting long lines of customers since it opened in 2016. The stall makes fresh baojiaobu with creative fillings such as crayfish, avocado and even fried bullfrog.

Scallion pancake

Scallion pancake, or congyou bing, is a Shanghai breakfast staple. The small, round and utterly aromatic pancake is quite a guilty pleasure.

The Shanghai-style scallion pancake is thicker and moister inside. The strong flavor of the scallion is accentuated by the cooking process.

The pancakes made of dough, ground pork and chopped scallion are first pan-fried on a hot griddle so the flavors mesh and the crust becomes crusty. Then the pancakes are baked in a barrel.

The average price of handmade scallion pancake in Shanghai is five yuan. In addition to the famous Ada Scallion Pancake eatery, vendors like Wang’s Scallion Pancake on Yuyuan Road also attract long lines every morning.

Tujia minority’s bing with chili sauce

Another popular street snack is a thin pancake with a flavorful chili sauce on top. It originated in Hubei Province, where it’s a staple of the Tujia ethnic minority.

Unlike jianbing that uses a batter, this recipe rolls a soft dough into a thin flatbread with minced pork topping. It is then placed on a griddle, spread with sauces of broad beans and fermented flour. Chopped scallion and toasted sesame seeds are sprinkled on top before serving.

Scallion and egg pancake

The scallion and egg pancake is a softer jianbing, usually cooked in a non-stick pan as a quick breakfast.

By beating eggs into the flour batter, the pancake is much softer and smoother than the jianbing cooked on griddles. Finely chopped scallion is mixed in, and dried small shrimp is one option for extra flavor.

After pouring some batter into the pan, tilt the pan slightly to let the batter flow evenly around the surface. When one side is almost done, flip to cook the other side till the color turns golden.

The pancake can be served with or without additional sauces.

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