On my recent and amazing vacation/honeymoon, I encountered so many, many wonderful things. I want to share everything with you (but clearly not all at once)! I hope the travel adventure posts don’t get old.
This trip was an awakening for all of my senses – the sights, sounds, smells, and of course, flavors. It has jump-started my mind and given me some new ideas that so far, I’ve been able to try out in my little kitchen back home. One of my all-time favorite breakfast foods is called the Jian Bing. This elusive food is served from street carts all over China. When I lived in China while studying in college, I would get a Jian Bing nearly every morning. Sometimes I’d get one on my way to class and sometimes I’d run out with my friends during break to get one before they closed up shop for the day. I encountered them in the north, the south, and the west of the country. Each place seems to have a slight regional interpretation of the Jian Bing, but the general idea is the same: scrambled eggs, dark sauce, veggie/scallion, optional fried dough, optional hot sauce, and a pancake to hold it all together. It’s like an amazing breakfast burrito! The combination is satisfying and really filling. The carts appear in the early morning mist and leave before the sun is high in the sky (or when they’ve sold out). Visitors (and maybe locals) share tips on where to find the best cart and what time to go. I’ve been able to find many of my favorite Chinese dishes here in the U.S., but have not been able to find a Jian Bing. I’ve mentioned them before to my husband, but just figured he’d never be able to try one.
Cut to a few weeks ago and we found ourselves arriving in Hainan Island, a Chinese province in the South China Sea. After days of travel, it was like a dream to finally be there! We were staying in a rental apartment just outside of Sanya city, on the southern part of the island. Our first morning we awoke early (thanks jet-lag) and were so excited to venture out and explore. I went onto our balcony to breathe in the fresh ocean air and noticed a group of people around a vendor in the courtyard below.
From 11 floors up, I could postulate that it was a breakfast specialty. Can you imagine my excitement when I got downstairs and discovered the spread of fresh breakfast goods included the regional Jian Bing?!? You know what I had for breakfast every day. The two guys making the Jian Bing had a lovely rhythm of working together. One would take the money while the other would pour batter into the sizzling hot pan. The money guy would hand the batter guy some eggs to crack. When all was cooked, the batter guy put the completed Jian Bing onto a plate. The money guy would let it cool for a moment before transferring the treat into a plastic bag and handing it over to the hungry patrons.
This routine went on every morning we were there, and I imagine it’s still going on now. We took our fresh Jian Bing across the street and would eat our magic egg wrap while looking out at the ocean. If that’s not a good start to the day, then I don’t know what is!
After we left China, I gave a little sigh, thinking I might not have another Jian Bing for a very long time. Well, upon arriving home, I woke up one morning to discover my husband mixing up a Jian Bing for me! Jet-lag works both ways and he’d been up for hours; just waiting to make me a special breakfast. The basics behind the Jian Bing are very simple and are a great canvas for your own creativity. This recipe makes two large Jian Bing. It is easy to adjust the recipe to accommodate more or less hungry people.
The Hainan Jian Bing was filled with fresh strips of cucumber, carrot and lettuce, with the option of adding chopped hot dog/sausage. A Jian Bing in Nanjing is filled with a You Tiao, or piece of fried dough, scallions, sauce and optional hot sauce. In Beijing, the Jian Bing is folded instead of rolled, and has a flat piece of fried dough inside. The variations are as many as you can imagine!