Jianbing, a Beijing street food that bridges China-U.S. culture

It was only a few years ago that jianbing 煎饼 — northern China’s ubiquitous street food — was a little-known novelty in New York, confined to stalls in Flushing and food carts. But in the past year or two, jianbing has gone mainstream, capturing the attention of big media and regular diners alike.

What is jianbing? Watch this video, then read about one American’s quest to bring this quintessentially Chinese food Stateside.

Inside an eatery in lower Manhattan, a painting by Chinese artist Liu Bolin hangs on the wall. Eight Chinese characters — 统一思想,宣传教育 tǒngyī sīxiǎng, xuānchuán jiàoyù, “Unite ideas, propagate education” — are written in red on top of a photo showing a grim Chinese man dressed in old-style military uniforms.

This is Mr Bing (老金煎饼 Lǎo jīn jiānbing), owned by Brian Goldberg, who spent a third of his life in Asia and now wants to bridge the cultural gap between the U.S. and China through jianbing, which the New York Times describes as “a savory crepe with an omelet underbelly and a crackly heart of fried dough.”

Goldberg, who spent his early years working as a journalist and then in finance for much of 10 years, started a jianbing business in Hong Kong five years ago. In 2015, he brought jianbing to Manhattan via a series of pop-ups, and last January opened a stall at Urbanspace Vanderbilt in midtown. Goldberg’s East Village location was opened in October, with more locations planned.

“Outside our school [in Beijing], there was a jianbing cart, like a little bike with an old lady on the back, making jianbing, and that’s what we had for breakfast pretty much every day,” Goldberg said. “We loved it so much that I basically came up with the idea at that time to eventually, some point in the future, bring jianbing to America.”

At Mr Bing, a squad of cooks works around six griddles. They scoop a spoon of batter onto a round cast-iron griddle, suffuse it with “secret” spices, and add an egg (plus other ingredients, according to the order). The right mix of Hoisin and Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp Sauce is key. All in all, it takes less than five minutes to make.

Places to find jianbing in New York:

The Flying Pig: Started as a stall in Brooklyn in 2016

 Jianbing Company: Serving Shanghai-style “original” jianbing
 Mr Bing: From Beijing to Hong Kong to New York

Other places in Flushing:

Express Tea Shop at Golden Shopping Mall; Mojoilla Fresh at New World Mall food court; Liang Pi Wang at New York Food Court; Sheng Jin Eatery.