Jian Bing is a Don’t Miss Breakfast in Shanghai

Living in the SGV, with its dizzying selection of regional Chinese restaurants, has its benefits, but there are some things I still miss from Shanghai. One of these things is the jian bing, a savory egg crepe that’s best eaten seconds after it comes off a hot plate. I feared that the fast modernization of Shanghai which was quickly replacing the old style tenements with luxury apartments would be the death of street food like this. I was grateful that on my last trip to Shanghai, there was not only still jian bing to be had, but that it was only a block away from where I was staying.

The telltale sign of a jian bing vendor is a large, round hotplate. It’s something that can be spotted from far away. The small crowd of people waiting for their breakfast is also a good sign. For less than one US dollar, I got a crunchy, savory breakfast that I had been looking forward to for years.

The jian bing vendor, a woman with a friendly but no-nonsense face, was a seasoned pro — quickly manipulating a thin layer of batter onto the hot, coal-heated hotplate. While the wheat batter cooked to a crisp, she broke an egg over the top, quickly spread and scrambled the egg before it set, smeared on a sweet and salty bean paste, some thin, spiced potato strips, a sprinkling of cilantro, and then a deep fried wonton wrapper. With her hands and a spatula, she deftly turned up the edge of the crepe, rolling it over itself into a long tube. Then “crunch!” as she used the edge of the spatula to crease the middle of the crepe, folded it in half, placed it into a thin plastic bag before handing it to me. She told me to eat it on the spot, reminding me to bite through both halves in one go. Still steaming from the heat, and pungent from the spiced potatoes, it was a great start to the morning.

On subsequent mornings, it became fascinating to watch the different customizations of jian bing customers were getting. Some prefer the added crunch of adding a you tiao (fried crueller). While she has a handful of you tiao (for 1RMB) for those who prefer it, one can also walk across the alley, buy a freshly fried you tiao from another vendor, and bring it over. One customer who lived nearby brought her own egg, saying she had extra at home, and got a 1RMB discount on her jian bing. Another brought his own sausage to add inside. And another wanted a cucumber inside. The customization options are endless. The jian bing vendor also remembered the preferences of her more frequent customers: less sweet, or no cilantro, or extra egg.

When she was done making all the jian bing orders of the morning and the customers were gone, the vendor packed up her stuff to go off to her second job, cleaning the house of a tenant of one of the luxury apartments nearby.

Vegan Breakfast Tacos

Vegan breakfast taco for dinner.I had this mess for dinner tonight.  Tofu scrambled with kale, onions, pasilla pepper, home-made red sauce and deep fried tortillas. Scoop that up in a hand-sized tortilla and call it a breakfast taco.  I think my red sauce needs work because while it had the nice deep flavor I was going for, it wasn’t spicy or zesty enough.  I ate this with a side of corn sprinkled with salt, lemon, and cayenne pepper. The corn was spicier than my red sauce, how sad.

What is it about eating breakfast food at dinner that makes it so satisfying?


Granola with dates, currants, and pistachio

Home made granola and yogurt for foursies.

I have a basic recipe for granola.  3 cups of oats to 1/3 cup fluid and 1/4 cup sweetener.  The variations and add-ins are endless.  This time, I used a handful of chopped pistachios and a handful of chopped pecans.  For fruit, I added in a handful of seeded and chopped dates and dried currants.  For sweetener, I used brown sugar. Finally, I mixed in a tablespoon of hemp protein powder and a pinch of salt and stirred all the dry ingredients together.

In a pyrex measuring cup, I used a mix of 1/4 cup melted margarine and canola oil, then a healthy glug of maple syrup and molasses.  Drizzled all of this over the dry ingredients, then tossed to coat evenly.

Cook this mixture on a flat baking sheet in a 250F oven for 1-hour (stirring after 20 minutes and then every 15 minutes after) to perfection. Tastes great mixed into yogurt with a banana and some frozen berries.