There are many risks to eating in China. From my relatives, they say that I need to be careful to not eat from small stands because they may serve fake meat, or jia rou (假肉). What is fake meat? It’s not the trendy vegan food that is made to taste and look like meat. It’s actually meat that is said to be the meat you usually eat (beef, chicken, pork, lamb), but it may very well be… rat. Yes. The little critters I see roaming the NYC Subway tracks. My mom also told me to avoid eating the lamb kabobs, or yang rou chuan (羊肉串). I don’t blame them. I wouldn’t eat at a sketchy food stand, or tan (摊).
But when the number 1 thing listed on the 51 Things to Do on Dartmouth’s Study Abroad in China is:
Order a jiānbǐng from the stand outside the east gate and watch them make it, and then enjoy it!
And then when you walk by it you see:
Yeup. That looks totally sketchy. I read the Dartmouth Student’s Unofficial Guide on Study Abroad in China prior to moving to my dorm. When I first saw that stand, I thought no way in hell did they mean this one. There must be another one I’m missing. This is exactly the type of place I’m told to avoid by my family.
But once the other students ate there and did not die, I thought it was safe for me to try. At that point, everyone still felt queasy after eating any food in China. I was fine, probably because this is my 5th time visiting China. I got a jian bing (煎饼), which is literally a Chinese crepe.
Guess what happens. The day after, I got diarrhea. That’s also the day before I visit the countryside with family for the Mid-Autumn Festival. You know what that means? Disgusting. Squat. Toilets. Which I’m still traumatized from using as a child. Diarrhea + Squat Toilet = Disaster. Safe to say, I survived. Thankfully. And good thing, all the squat toilets flushed! Whereas in Tibet… It was another story. I’ll just say: trench.
You might be thinking, why is this girl talking about bathroom business on her food blog? I don’t want to hear any of this. I want to read about FOOD. Wait a second. Be patient. I’m getting there.
Aside from fake meat… There’s also the risk of gutter oil, which literally is what it sounds like. People are making oil from used oil and animal parts that are found in trash and even the sewer. So yeah. See the connection? Bathroom –> Sewer. I’m a genius at making seamless transitions.
So should I even be eating here? Well, I see them making the food in front of me. I know what they’re adding in. Well, I don’t know the exact ingredients in the batter or sauce… Or that meat they add in… It’s chicken. Or it should be chicken. For all I know, I could have been eating rat this whole time. (Ew!)
But then that oil they rub on the griddle… Is that?
At this point, I’d like to think that the food from that stand is safe to eat. Since that first day, I haven’t had any stomach trouble. Was the stomach trouble from eating that first jian bing? I probably shouldn’t add meat to my jian bing since it does look rather suspicious now that I think about it… The stand has been included in the A Dartmouth Student’s Unofficial Guide to the China FSP and LSA+ and I see tons of other students, both from Dartmouth and Beijing Normal University, eating from that stand. No one has complained. That stand has definitely been there for a few years. I’m not complaining. Let’s just hope everything is fine and dandy.
Now for some food pictures!
Jian Bing (煎饼) – 4 元 ($0.66)
I love eating it when it is just served. As I’ve said before, I love food when it’s so hot that it can almost burn me. From the picture above, you can even see the steam emanating from it! I just like that burnin feel. No, I’m not a masochist. Actually, I like that warm sensation it brings as it goes down my esophagus, especially when I have soup.
You can smell the fragrant cilantro, or xiang cai (香菜). If you look at the characters individually, it literally means fragrant vegetable! When you take a bite, you taste so many different textures. The crepe itself is very thin but when folded together, it’s rather substantial. The crepe skin is so soft but then you get the crunch from the fried dough and hot pickled mustard tuber. As for taste, you get the salty and spicy. I love that in one bite, you get to experience so many flavors and textures.
Ji dan guan bing (鸡蛋灌饼) – 3 元 ($0.49)
I love the dough, pancake, flatbread…. I never know how to translate bing (饼)! Anyways, as you can see from the picture above, there are various layers. I’ve observed him make it and it appears that he makes the dough and then rolls it into a long cylinder and coils it and then flattens it. I’ve seen my mom do this method to make layers in her meat pie, xian bing (馅饼). He then pan fries it, adds an egg to the middle, and then moves the griddle to reveal a metal cylinder. I think he slaps the bing in there to crisp up.
As for everything else, I don’t really care much for. The lettuce adds a nice crunch. It’s not cooked so it’s still cold against the hot bing. Overall, it brings a refreshing taste that counterbalances the salty and spicy of the sauces smeared onto the bing.
I’ll continue eating here. It’s cheap. I see the food made in front of me. It looks fine. I haven’t had an upset stomach. The other students who were previously here from Dartmouth all liked it. Other international students at Beijing Normal University also eat here. I’ll take my chances.
I think this is my favorite place to eat. It’s quick and satisfies my craving for carb. There’s a lot of depth in flavor and texture in the jian bing. My other favorite place to eat is in the student cafeteria. I like to buy their stone bowl mixed rice, or shi guo ban fan (石锅拌饭). That stand in the cafeteria is based off of Korean food, so I think the more appropriate name is bibimbap (비빔밥). These are the two places I eat at regularly on campus.
I’ll update y’all if anything suddenly changes. For now, jian bing forever!