“You’re my favorite. Your Chinese is really good,” beamed the Jian Bing Lady, pointing towards me with one of her jian bing tools (a paint scraper).
Eeeghk! I couldn’t hide a big smile; the Jian Bing Lady says I’m her favorite!
As I was standing next to two of my fellow Chinese speaking expatriate colleagues, I pretended to feel slightly awkward when she proclaimed this. It didn’t really matter, though, as it was the Jian Bing Lady that said it. Who could get angry at her?
Jian bing is a Chinese street food: an eggy crepe topped and folded up with scallion, coriander, and a crunchy-starchy layer. What’s not to love?! (Ok, full disclosure: I get mine without coriander. Because of a genetic goof, coriander tastes like soap to me. Google it. Real thing.)
Approximately nine years ago, the Jian Bing Lady and her husband set up their shop. This happened to be roughly the same time I started working just around the corner from them. I must have driven past, or walked past, their hole-in-the-wall restaurant a thousand times over the first seven years before I actually stopped and tried their jian bing.
But, one day I stopped and ordered a jian bing, and I haven’t looked back since.
A few times a week, I watch hungrily as the Jian Bing Lady smears the hot flat griddle with a Red Bull can greaser (that’s right: a Red Bull can greaser…an empty Red Bull can that is packed full of solid grease topped with a questionable porous fabric), and then ladles on a spoonful of batter. She then majestically swirls her batter-swirler (I’m pretty sure that is the technical term) to make a perfect crepe-like bing. The bing is subsequently topped with an egg or two, a skim of sauce, a smidgen of spice (if you dare), onion, coriander (none for me, thanks genetic goof!) and a crunchy, carby layer, which we all quietly say is the unhealthiest bit but all secretly know is also the best bit.
While the jian bing is cooking, she entertains with light conversation and a smile. My daughter loves to get jian bing from the Jian Bing Lady and happily takes part in the refreshingly familiar back and forth banter.
When it is cooked to perfection, the Jian Bing Lady folds it all up and pops it into a thin plastic bag while her husband takes the six yuan. Street food to go.
The Jian Bing Lady and I don’t know each other’s names. Maybe, one of the next times I go, I might interrupt our conversation about whether or not jian bing would be a hit back in the States and ask her for her name and give her mine. For now though, we all know her as our favorite Jian Bing Lady.
Oh, and if this little bit of heaven I’ve just described isn’t your thing, they also sell hot steaming corn juice. Yum?
Bio: Originally from the Chicagoland area, Jane Kang has been an international educator in China for twelve years. She and her Chinese husband of eight years have a preschool aged girl and a baby boy. She loves watching TV shows (if she can stay awake for them), eating mint chocolate chip ice-cream (maybe too much so), and spending time with her friends and family (both near and far, in person and online).