Could I request a moment of silence and solemnity please. I have something of great importance to share with you.
Dear reader, I think the moment has come. I feel that you are ready now… It is time for me to introduce you to one of the greatest parts of Chinese cuisine: the world of bing (饼).
That’s right, bing. Because, people, it is important for you to know: Bing is King. Repeat after me. Bing. Is. King.
The literal translation of the word bing is cake or or pastry, but it is most often translated as ‘flat bread’. But whilst flat bread in English is just that – a flat bread – bing encompasses a whole range of bready, pancakey, pie-like goodness.
Mostly associated with street-food vendors, bing can be found stacked in glass cases on window ledges, served fresh and crispy from a hot plate on the back of a tricycle and stuffed, fried and spread with chilli paste from makeshift stalls rigged up to catch the early morning commuters.
Sweet red bean paste filled shao bing, crunchy crepe-like jian bing, savoury, meat layered rou bing, spicy, egg-filled guan bing. Da bing, zhua bing, cong you bing, and don’t even get me started on The Roger Moore (rou jia mo).
Bing is my kryptonite. I can’t help myself if I pass a stall selling them, in whatever form. I guess it comes from my general obsession with all things bread related, but it is hard to beat a piping hot, freshly fried bing. Crispy on the outside and chewy on the inside. They are also legendary on slightly tender, post-booze mornings… forget your guilt inducing McDonalds or greasy fry-up. Bing is hangover king.Some of the stuffed bing are a full on meal in themselves, but one of my favourites – 葱油饼 (congyoubing) – can be cooked as an accompaniment to a meal in the place of rice. I like to tear a corner off and surreptitiously wipe up the rich sauce of fish fragranced pork (鱼香肉丝 yuxiangrousi) or place a cube of spicy pock marked mother’s tofu (麻婆豆腐 mapodoufu) on top and pop it in my mouth.
A fried flat bread, 葱油饼 congyoubing is crispy and doughy, with layers of fragrant spring onion that are at once salty and sweetly caramelised. The trick to cooking this bing is in the creation of paper-thin layers, sprinkled with finely sliced spring onion and salt. Whilst the outside crisps and browns from its contact with the oil, the layers fill with steam and cook the bing from the inside out, giving it that perfect consistency of crunch, chew and moisture.
Bing are traditionally sold as a breakfast on the go, and in addition to accompanying your evening meal, congyoubing are perfect for the weekend morning breakfast table with some scrambled egg and roast tomatoes. If you’re not in the mood for savoury, I sometimes adapt the congyoubing for a sweet tooth, filling it with layers of sugar, cinnamon and toasted sesame seeds and served drizzled with runny honey and chopped chunks of fruit.
Like I said. Bing is king.
This is an important mantra for you to learn. Congyoubing is just the beginning, my friends. Together, we will slowly work our way through the varied, always incredible world of bing. Great adventures await.
So embrace your new mantra, be converted and savour the delights of bing for your breakfast tomorrow.
Spring onion layered flat bread
(makes approximately 6 small handsized bing)
200g plain flour
approx 200 ml cold water
finely sliced spring onion (green and white parts)
butter (at room temperature so easily spreadable)
Place the flour in a big mixing bowl and add the water bit by bit to make a dough. In contrast to bread, dumpling or noodle dough, the dough for bing should be really quite sticky. Annoyingly so.
It will completely stick itself to your fingers as you knead the dough, but it wants to be sticky so that a) the bing is moist and b) when you roll it up it sticks together easily. You can easily scrape the dough off your fingers using a butter knife or similar.
After a couple of minutes of kneading, cover the dough with a damp tea towel or sheet of damp kitchen roll and set aside for about 30 minutes to rest.
Whilst the dough is resting, finely slice the spring onions (if you’re making the savoury bing).
Rolling and cooking
Dust a pastry board, or surface in flour and also coat the palms of your hands. Take a fist sized clump of the dough and gently roll it in a bit of flour so that it stops being quite so sticky.
Then gently tease and, using a rolling pin, roll the dough into an elongated triangle shape.
Drizzle a small amount of oil over the upward facing surface of the dough, and spread using a knife (if making the sweet version, spread a thin layer of butter instead). Sprinkle with the finely sliced spring onion and a generous amount of salt (or sugar and cinnamon).
Then, starting at the thin end of the triangle, roll the dough up towards the thicker end.
When you get to the end, pinch the two corners together, and gather in the open end so it all bunches up and squeeze it closed.
Gently roll the ball in between the palms of your hands and place on the floured surface with the bunched, sealed side facing down. Then using your rolling pin, roll the dough into a small, flat circle, roughly 10cm in diameter.
Heat a frying pan, and when it is hot, add a drizzle of cooking oil. When the oil is just starting to smoke, place the bing in the pan, tilting and turning the pan to ensure the oil coats the underside of the bing. Then cover with a lid and leave to fry for a couple of minutes over a medium/high heat.
Flip the bing on to the other side, and add a drizzle more oil to help the other side brown. Push down on the bing with the flat of a spatula to help it brown. If necessary, flip back on to the other side to make sure both sides are evenly brown and crispy.
Remove from the frying pan and place on a sheet of kitchen roll to absorb any excess oil. Keep warm whilst you roll and fry the other bing.
When ready to serve, cut into quarters.