New Yorkers’ appetite for regional Chinese cuisine has only grown since the jianbing first made a splash in the food scene a couple years ago. The crepe-like dish, usually eaten for breakfast, is a combination of savory, umami flavors paired with crisp textures. It’s so unlike anything else served at Americanized Chinese takeout restaurants that it’s encouraging new perspectives on Chinese cuisine.
Native to northeastern China, the jianbing is square like a Breton galette, filled with eggs, scallions and sometimes meat, folded up into a neat little package. Mr. Bing and Jianbing Company have brought varying versions of the crepe from Beijing and Shanghai to New York, both finding success in open-air food markets like UrbanSpace Vanderbilt and Smorgasburg in recent years. Mr. Bing and Jianbing Company have now moved into brick-and-mortars in Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively. We asked Brian Goldberg of Mr. Bing about how the jianbing came to exist. He gave us two different origin stories.
In one version, a hungry Chinese army finds that their woks have been stolen. Luckily, cooking ingredients were still aplenty and Army Chancellor, Zhuge Liang, figures that their flat shields can serve as a cooking surface. Liang orders the men to mix water and wheat flour, spread the thin batter on shields over fire, and toss whatever they had left over the crispy bing. Legend has it, the cooked batter was folded up into a crepe-like invention and fed the masses.
Goldberg then tells another creation story that’s reminiscent of Les Misérables. A man is sent to jail for stealing a mantou (steamed bun). As he spends his time studying for an exam and practicing calligraphy, his wife makes a daily delivery of rice paper for his studies. When he makes a point to tell his wife that food in jail is barely edible, she starts bringing crepes thin enough to slide underneath the cell bars during her visits.
Luckily for us now, we don’t have to be imprisoned or be part of a wok-less army to enjoy crispy jianbing.