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“How many pieces after this?”
“It’s soon, just a few pieces.”
This is the type of conversation I can often hear when I am standing by Wang’s cart. Tonight I am on my way back home from work and the familiar smell from his cart attracts me to it again. Wang is always busy at that time. It’s 11:00 on a chilling evening in Winter , believe it or not?
Wang’s business is making Jianbin Guozi, a Tianjin styled pancake roll. Jianbin refers to Chinese pancake rolls which originated in Shandong while Guozi, as Tianjian people call it, stands for deep-fried flour sticks. But now it has become one of the most popular snacks in Beijing, or even around the country.
“I want to have one with sausage and preserved vegetable shreds”. A passing taxi driver pulls up his car and joins us. In effect, like every other sort of food from outside the city, the pancake roll has also undergone the process of being localized for Beijing. The main ingredients of an authentic Jianbin Guozi made in Tianjin are millet batter, egg, deep-fried flour stick, green onion and sweet flour sauce with coriander, sesame, and chili sauce as optional seasonings. The most visible difference between the pancake rolls in Beijing and the ones originally in Tianjin is that a thin sheet of deep-fried flour is put in a pancake roll as filling rather than a stick of deep-fried flour.
“What do you want to have in yours?”, Wang asks me. It now comes to my turn. “I want the normal one, and no spice please”, I answer.
“It’s three Kuai”Wang says.
It costs about a bit more than a one-way subway fare in Beijing, which partly explains why the pancake roll is so popular with working people. If a person wants a snack that is cheap, quick, delicious and heavy enough to fill the stomach, there is probably no better option than a piece of Jianbin Guozi.
It is fun to watch how my meal is made. A scoop of millet batter is firstly put on the pan. Then Wang uses a roller to get the round pan evenly covered by the flour. When the flour sheet gets almost solid, it is the time to break the egg and drop it on the sheet. Once again a roller is needed to disperse the egg. Right after that, Wang turns the flour sheet upside down using a spatula and dusts the sesame on. Following the spreading of sweet sauce is the scattering of green onion bits and coriander. Then, after a piece of deep-fried flour sheet is put atop, the last step is only to fold up the whole pancake and get it tucked into a little plastic bag. Here I get my lovely night delicacy.
“How many pieces ahead”, another young man comes to ask.
“Only two. Soon”, Wang replies without looking up.
“I want two”, the man says.
“Hi, honey. Mine is no spice”, a young lady is shouting opposite the street from a car.
Wang has his cart parked beside one of the busiest streets in the city late every evening when the local police are at their least active. But Wang is never alone. You may have to wait for your turn to get a pancake roll. For those people who still move outside at night, a piece of Jianbin Guozi is hardly resisitable for a pretty good night snack.