Since this piece was written Zhange Ge (Angie) has closed her Chinese pancake stall but there is still chance to buy them from the CakeLicious Chinese pastries kiosk just around the corner in the market. But read this first then you’ll know all about this delicious snack.
Despite being right in the middle of Sheffield’s Moor Market trader Zhange Ge – but we can call her Angie – gets few English customers at her Big Bing Chinese crepe stall. They look, fascinated by the food theatre performed on the hotplate before them, then walk off without buying.
It’s their loss. With some 6,000 Chinese students in the city there’s plenty of business for Angie who sells what is China’s most popular street food but which has yet to make itself as well known as prawn crackers or chow mein. And for just £2.80 the standard version of what the Chinese call jian bing will fill you up for lunch.
Even though, as Angie says, it’s more of a breakfast back home in China.
Jian bing means fried pancake. It’s basically an omelette wrapped around a pancake and filled with crispy lettuce, crispy wanton and a hot dog, flavoured with hoisin sauce, chilli, spring onions, sesame and a few other ingredients. And although these are everyday items the result is more than the sum of its parts. You’ve got two soft layers in the pancake and omelette, two different kinds of crunch from the won ton and lettuce, bursts of flavour from the spring onions and spices, all bound together by the hoisin, bringing back memories of the crisp duck course in Chinese restaurants.
Angie, who is 26 and comes from Qingdao in Shandong Province, where jian bing was traditionally invented almost 2,000 years ago, took just a couple of minutes to make mine.
First she spread a thin layer of batter on the circular hotplate then, as it was beginning to set, broke an egg over it and spread that, too. After scattering on what looked like seasoning she flipped the circle (so the omelette was now on the outside) and spread a layer of hoisin sauce, the stuff you get with crispy duck, over the surface. Then came a hot dog, or, rather, half of one sliced down the middle.
“Do you want chilli?” she asked. There was something else which I didn’t catch but said yes to both. She sprinkled on chilli flakes, chopped spring onion and sesame seeds and added won tons and lettuce before rolling it all up into quite a hefty package, wrapped in paper with smiley faces and presented in a brown paper bag.
I found a seat and tackled it gingerly, worried that bits might fall out. They didn’t. At a nearby table a couple of pretty Chinese students were eating their jian bings much more expertly.
Angie has been on the market for about six months. Chinese students have plenty of places to choose from: there are a couple more oriental food stalls as well as the Portuguese custard tarts which the Chinese love at the Chinese-run CakeLicious stall.
Jian bing has been around for rather longer. According to legend the dish was dreamed up by General Zhuge Liang around 250AD who told his soldiers to cook batter on their metal shields held over a fire when, for some reason, they hadn’t got their woks.
Bing could well be the next Big Thing in street food to take off although it is fiddly to make and needs some little skill. If you don’t like the version on offer you can have one ‘custom built’ from extra ingredients listed. To see how Angie does it check out the video at https://www.facebook.com/MoorMarket/videos/1015037741950964/?video_source=pages_finch_thumbnail_video
CHRIS Wong who makes the Chinese pastries and delicious Portuguese egg tarts at CakeLicious is now selling jian bing at his kiosk. There are two hotplates. He reckons it takes three minutes to make a pancake. What’s more, his batter is made the traditional way with green bean (mung) flour. His is the only place outside London to do so he claims. “Chinese people can smell the distinctive aroma,” he says. This part of the business is called Da Su Jian Bing. Da Su means ‘uncle,’ as he’s so much older than his student customers!
If you’re brave, ask him for a cup of black soya bean drink which takes him two hours to prepare each morning. Apparently Chinese students drink it all the time. To me it tasted like cocoa!