Comparing za liang jian bing (杂粮煎饼) to a crepe burrito is probably the easiest way to describe the food that has foiled my New Year’s weightloss resolutions. Jian bing translates to “fried pancakes” and the recipe originates from Shandong province in Northeast China back in 220 – 280 AD!
Originally, the fried pancake was meant to be served as a breakfast food; today it is a popular fast food eaten around the clock. Even in tiny Huaqiao there are several vendors selling this delicacy, setting up their portable bike carts in the morning and evenings.
These pancakes generally cost around 4 RMB ($0.60) due to the cheap ingredients. The outer shell is essentially a crepe, the batter for it is made out of wheat and flour. It only takes a minute or two to make and watching the process is truly mesmerizing.
First, the vendor spreads the batter on a heated plate with a single sweeping motion. Then they crack an egg over it, spread that and add a thin layer of brown sauce. Once everything in evenly spread they add a spicy sauce, unless you ask them not to by saying “bu la” (not spicy). Then they add a yummy baocui (薄脆) a crispy fried cracker that gives the otherwise soft wrap a crispy texture.
Finally, they add some fresh herbs, mainly scallions and coriander. Sometimes you can add sausages, more spicy sauces, mustard pickles and other small ingredients. Personally, I like it as plain as possible to avoid drowning out the coriander which gives it an oriental flavor.
For almost 2,000 years za liang jian bing was only available in China and Taiwan because the recipe was a well kept secret. Today, it is still rare to find them outside of China but there have been authentic fried pancakes made abroad by Chinese-trained chefs.
Read more about the cultural significance and history of the za liang jian bing here. The article will also tell you where to find it in the USA. Alternatively, you can watch a video of it being made here. Just don’t do it on an empty stomach, trust me.