How many jianbing photos does a blog need, really?
We think it’s important that the unabated love affair with jianbing on Beijing Haochi continues with these photos from a vendor located off the corner of Jiaodaokou Dajie and Gulou Dajie. She makes her jianbing with exceptional loving care. There’s no slopping here, no hurry, no pressure because of customers lined up during rush hour, just the smooth and practiced caress of jianbing batter over the crepe pan; broad swathes of evenly painted sauces; the use of one.and.a.half crispy fried wonton skins, ending up in one of the best jianbing we have eaten in Beijing.
What is the essence of a jianbing?
The steps to making a jianbing can be found here, but what is the soul of a jianbing? We won’t pretend that this isn’t tainted with personal biases, traumas, and possibly a few deadened tastebuds. We opine: a jianbing is primarily that perfect contrast, balance and interplay between the pliant crepe and the crispy lightness of the fried dough. It’s a texture thing, as it is in so many Chinese foods. Add to that layers of savory sauces that range from sweet to earthy to salty to slightly fermented, the crisp cool crunch of some herbaceous matter, and the comforting nutritiousness of a egg cooked just-so, and that, my friend, is the essence of a jianbing.
Chewy bing, crispy bing, complex sauce, fried egg, herbs. Here’s what’s inside, and what you’ll need to make one, or several, on your own.
Typically, there are four sauces in a jianbing: the hoisin-based sauce, chili sauce, fermented tofu sauce, and leek flower sauce. The recipes below are in the order that they are typically applied, and if you watch a jianbing vendor, you can see that the hoisin-based sauce is brushed all over, the chili sauce is sporadically dabbed, while the fermented tofu sauce is usually just applied just around the perimeter, with perhaps one stroke down the center. The leek flower sauce is extra, but adds a beautiful roundness to the flavor.
Left to right: hoisin sauce, chili paste, red fermented tofu, and leek flower sauce
The most important thing about this sauce is that we always thought it was hoisin sauce straight out of a jar, and it isn’t. It’s thinned down and enhanced with other flavorings. Many thanks to Baidu… we scaled down the proportions of the linked recipe, as it’s clearly meant for someone opening their own stand.
- oil, 50 grams/1.7 oz
- hoisin sauce (tianmianjiang 甜面酱), 100 grams/3.5 oz
- water, 40 grams/1.5 oz
- bouillion powder, to taste
- fresh ginger, about a two-inch piece, ground very fine into a paste
- green onion, about two stalks, minced very fine
- salt to taste
1. In a deep and heavy pot, heat oil over medium heat until it is medium warm-ish. If it starts smoking, you’ve gone too far and need to cool it down before proceeding further.
2. Turn the heat on low, and put the ginger and green onion into the oil. You want it to infuse the oil slowly, so take your time.
3. Add the rest of the ingredients: hoisin sauce, water, salt, and bouillon powder. Cook over low heat for 5-7 minutes, stirring and whisking constantly to prevent sticking. It’s done! This should keep for a few months.
Pick your favorite chili sauce from the store; we like one that is a bit drier, with wisps of chili flakes.
Fermented tofu sauce
- Red fermented tofu (hong doufuru or nanru 红豆腐乳／南乳)
Red fermented tofu is a variety of preserved tofu, often called tofu cheese, that is often used as a condiment over congee and to flavor meaty braises. It has a rather pungent flavor and a distinctive (rather gross in its slimy solidity) texture. There’s a extravagant variety that is flavored with rose as well.
This is fairly easy to locate in an Asian grocery. For the sauce, pull out a chunk of the tofu and mash it up — it will turn a nice creamy pink. Dilute with water until the texture is quite thin.
Leek Flower Sauce
- Leek flower sauce (jiucaihua 韭菜花)
This is a lovely green sauce made from the tips of Chinese chives (jiucai 韭菜), with clear garlicky overtones. It’s also widely available at most Chinese groceries in the States. It can leave one’s breath powerfully odiferous, so often the jianbing vendor will ask if you want to opt out.
Sauces down, now on to innards and batter….