• Jianbing are known as a quintessential city breakfast in China, served from street vendors. (Instagram)Source: Instagram
These eggy crepe sandwiches, laden with crunchy fried wonton puffs, coriander, pickles and chilli sauce, are the ultimate Chinese street food breakfast. Just make sure you're eating one made to the traditional recipe.
Lucy Rennick

1 Aug 2018 - 3:21 PM  UPDATED 11 Feb 2019 - 10:48 PM

To casual consumers of Chinese food, jianbing might represent little more than a delicious, humble eggy snack, available at places like Griddle King in Sydney for the very reasonable price of $4 to $10.

But to others – specifically, the local trade association in Tianjin, China – the crepe-like street food is fast becoming a proverbial battleground for preserving tradition. Earlier this year, the Tianjin Catering Industry Association announced a set of new “rules” to be applied to the production of jianbing, in an attempt to standardise the pancakes across the board.

Among the rules published on Chinese state media outlets: pancakes should be “round and even”, falling somewhere in the diameter range of 38-45cm; the shelf life of the finished product mustn’t exceed one day and should generally be eaten within two hours; the city’s standardised batter includes mung bean, and the packaging should list an expiration date, and the name, address and contact number of who made it.

In their home country, jianbing is known as a quintessential city breakfast served from street vendors. They come laden with crunchy fried wonton puffs, coriander, pickles and chilli sauce.

Of course, like any street snack with mass appeal, jianbing has been reinterpreted and reimagined across the world. At the Jianbing Company in Brooklyn, New York, you can fill your pancake with smoked bacon. In Hong Kong, some vendors serve jianbing with condensed milk and peanut butter.

Of course, like any street snack with mass appeal, jianbing has been reinterpreted and reimagined across the world.

Sydneysiders can enjoy jianbing for breakfast (with corn and mayo, ham and cheese, or pork floss, for example) or lunch (with braised beef or crispy chicken), while New York's Mr Bing has served it as a dessert topped with Nutella.

In the interest of preserving cultural heritage, the Tianjin Catering Industry Association cares not for these fusion varieties, clearly. Like the French and Japanese with their respective cuisines, the Chinese view jianbing as an integral item of culture. But is trying to regulate them now equivalent to an attempt to put a full-grown cat back in a bag? How successful can containing the proliferation (and subsequent reinvention) of street food really be?

According to Song Guanming, Tianjin Catering Industry Association chairman, the rules won’t be strictly enforced: they’re optional for anyone who cares enough about the sanctity of this particular pancake – so no pressure.

“As we make the ingredients and cooking method public, we guarantee that the costs of jianbing will not increase, the flavours will be authentically delicious and business will definitely improve, if practitioners follow the standard,” he has said.

Get ready to bask in a Chinese food bounty like no other as Adam Liaw's brand-new series Destination Flavour China comes to SBS from Wed, 28 Nov and then after broadcast via SBS On Demand. Join the conversation #DestinationFlavour on Instagram @sbsfood, Facebook @SBSFood and Twitter @SBSFood. Check out sbs.com.au/destinationflavour for recipes, videos and more! 

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