This post is in collaboration with Jianbing Company.
Every NYC foodie knows that Smorgasburg is the king of outdoor food markets. Here, you can eat yourself silly and experience the latest and greatest of NYC eats. Jianbing Company specializes in one of Shanghai’s biggest street foods and managed to secure one of the highly coveted spots at Smorgasburg 2016. I recently had the opportunity to meet and chat with founders Reuben Shorser and Tadesh Inagaki to learn more about their jianbing story.
Founders Reuben and Tadesh have known each other since 7th grade music camp. They both went to Princeton, and they’re now roommates at Jianbing Company HQ in Brooklyn. During their Princeton days, Reuben spent some time abroad in China where he discovered jianbing and woke up at the crack of dawn to learn how to make it from a local street vendor. Fast forward a few years, and what they serve at Smorgasburg every weekend is authentic shandong jianbing 山东煎饼 close to the original that you’ll find all over the streets of Shanghai. (Read: this is not some bastardized version filled with cheese.)
So what exactly is a jianbing? Think of it as a Chinese breakfast crepe. The batter is a mixture of four types of flours: wheat, corn, soy, and millet. Inside, you’ll find an egg, 13 sauce, scallions, cilantro, homemade chili sauce, and crunchy crackers. Instead of using premade wonton wrappers, they make the crackers from scratch, which involves manning a fryer for six hours straight (!!!). You can add chicken, beef, or tofu to make your jianbing more filling. The marinated proteins are organic and hand sliced. They’re sliced thin so the folded jianbing has a shape more like a panini than a roly poly burrito.
If you want to impress your friends, take note of the difference between jianbing from Tianjin vs. jianbing from Shandong. With the former, the jianbing is flipped before folding so the egg covered crepe surface is on the outside. Jianbing Company makes their jianbing in shandong style, where there is no flipping and all the ingredients remain on the inside for a cleaner finish. Makes it more Instagramable, right?
Part of the fun of jianbing is the performance. At 11:30am, there was already a line for jianbing and a crowd gathered around to watch them cook. Good thing the Jianbing Company team doesn’t get stage fright. After watching for a while, John joked that maybe we should applaud every time a jianbing was completed.
It all starts with the most crucial step: spreading the batter. Mess up that first step and your jianbing game is all off. Next, crack an egg directly onto the crepe and spread it evenly. (For a vegan jianbing, ask for no egg.) After that, sprinkle the greens, spoon the sauces, add the crackers. Time to fold, cut, and hand off.
The verdict? Tasty. Street food can sometimes be a turnoff for me if it’s too greasy or heavy, but that’s not the case here. The crepe was light and just enough to hold the filling together. The honey-ginger tofu and 13 sauce were both delicious. The chili sauce was pretty mild, so if you like things spicy, ask for the hot version. Each jianbing half is pretty big, and so get an order to share with a friend if you plan to try as many things as possible at Smorgasburg.
If my jianbing photo series wasn’t enough, check out my video of co-founder Reuben making jianbing. It takes 1:30 minutes from start to finish, and it’s pretty fascinating to watch.
Note: This post is in collaboration with Jianbing Company. I was invited to meet with this vendor and received a complimentary meal. This was not in exchange for a positive review and all opinions expressed here are my own.