DIY jianbing: How to make the perfect breakfast crêpe
Jianbing (煎饼) have long been a Chinese breakfast staple. With streets bustling in the early morning with vendors selling a true cornucopia of snacks, Shanghai's egg-based jianbing with crispy flat bread has become as popular with visitors as it is with locals.
“The reason they’re so popular is simple,” explains Mei Ling, who sets up her jianbing shop within the Dongxin Lu Wet Market. “[Jianbing] appeal to almost everyone because they can be made with any number of ingredients, according to the eater’s own taste.”
Mei Ling, like other masters of this delicacy, is an artist with her wooden scraper. She quickly and effortlessly works with both hands: one hand cracks the egg, sprinkles the herbs and schmears the thick sauces, while her other hand continuously scrapes, swirls and folds until she’s left with China’s version of the savory crêpe. The French would be horrified. We think it’s delicious.
“The taste,” Mei explains to us while chopping our jianbing in half before deploying it into a plastic bag, “is just like yin and yang. You need to balance the saltiness with sweetness.”
To achieve that perfect harmony of flavor, Mei uses soybean paste instead of hoisin sauce in her interpretation of the quick and inexpensive breakfast (they normally run about RMB 2.5 per jianbing).
“Hoisin sauce is too sweet and thin. Soy bean paste is perfect and holds the dried chilies together well.”
[Jianbing] appeal to almost everyone because they can be made with any number of ingredients, according to the eater’s own taste.— Mei Ling, jianbing master
What’s that crunch?
Ask the vendor outside East China Normal University why so many people like jianbing, and he’ll tell you, it’s all about the crunchy fried dough stuffed inside them.
“Each customer creates his or her own jianbing. Some like it spicy, some don’t like cilantro, but almost everyone likes the youtiao.”
Although many cities have their versions of jianbing, the youtiao-stuffed ones are most often found in Shanghai. There are two versions of the youtiao that are usually offered in our fair city: one is a long cruller-like stick, often dipped in soymilk and enjoyed as breakfast by itself. The other version (the better version) is a flat and crispy piece of fried dough.
Once you try a jianbing with a youtiao you’ll never go back.
Jianbing go fast
In the morning, jianbing are offered on almost any Shanghai street corner. But some of the best are created just outside East China Normal University and within the Dongxin Lu Wet Market in Putuo.
Be warned though, these delicious breakfast items are only sold in the mornings and, for good reason, sell out fast. If you’ve just landed and are suffering from the early rising of jet lag or are just an early riser, take advantage of being the early bird and go catch your worm, in the form of a freshly made jianbing.
Mei Ling’s jianbing
- 3 tbs millet flour
- 2 tbs bean flour
- 1 tbs all purpose flour
- 6 tbs soy milk
- 1.5 tsp vegetable oil
- 3 eggs
- Dried chili flakes to taste or 3 tbs chili sauce
- 3 tbs soybean paste
- Handful of freshly chopped scallions (green part)
- Handful of freshly chopped cilantro
- Three flat and crispy youtiao (adjust each piece to the size of your 'crêpe')
- Whisk together the millet, bean and all purpose flours, soy milk and vegetable oil until well combined (should be the consistency of whipping cream, add a splash of water if not thin enough).
- Spray a non-stick skillet with cooking spray and set over medium low heat.
- Pour 1/3 of the crêpe batter onto the skillet, and swirl until the entire skillet is evenly coated with a thin layer of the batter.
- Cook for two minutes, until set.
- Crack an egg over the crêpe, and gently break up the yolk, spreading the egg over the entire crêpe.
- Cook for two minutes, until set.
- Sprinkle the egg with chopped scallions and cilantro to taste.
- Let cook for an additional minute (until the white and yolk is set).
- Carefully, fold the 'crêpe' in half.
- Schmear 1 tbs of soybean paste and chili -- or chili sauce -- to preference onto the folded jianbing.
- Place a piece of youtiao into the center of the folded jianbing, fold the two sides of the jianbing inwards, then fold the jianbing in half again (fold it like you would a burrito).
- Slice in half and serve immediately.
This recipe works a treat, but don't take our word for it. After sampling our DIY jianbing, Mei Ling summed it up: “Not bad for a white guy.”
Dongxin Lu Wet Market
Dongxin Lu and Dongxin Extension, near Wuning Lu
Front Gate East China Normal University (open later than most)
3663 Zhongshan Bei Lu, near Jinjiashang Lu and Zhongtang Lu