All the Bing: A Guide to China's Favorite Street Food

By Sophie Steiner, March 16, 2024

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Our favorite time to explore any Chinese city is in the morning. As it begins to awaken, food vendors pop up on every street corner, and the smell of deliciously frying dough, steaming savory dumplings, boiling wontons and noodles, and baking bready treats waft through the air, like a warm blanket. 

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One of the most common breakfast foods (that rolls into an all-day snack) is the all encompassing bing (饼).

The specific character for bing is defined as anything round, flat and pastry-like, regardless of its size, ultimate shape (when folded, in some cases), thickness, or exact list of ingredients.

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Think buns, cakes, crepes, rolls, pancakes, flatbreads, cookies, pitas, biscuits, naan breads... the list goes on. It's an open-ended definition that we are glad to fill our tummies with.

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There are far too many scrumptious bing options to keep track of, so we’ve put together a guide of our top choices found around town for any and all of your bing consumption needs. 

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Jian Bing 煎饼 | Fried Pancake

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The mother of all bingjian bing is the perfect on-the-go breakfast; it takes about two minutes to make, is downright delicious and costs roughly RMB7, depending on your add-ons.

Jian bing stands are a dime a dozen, located all over Chinese cities every morning of the year – rain or shine – so you never have to venture too far or wait too long to enjoy one. 

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A proper jian bing is made by ladling an overflowing scoop of glutinous millet batter onto a hot griddle that is then spirally spread into a thin, savory crepe-like shape.

An egg or two are cracked and smeared across the top and left to fry into the batter. 

The jian bing ayi  – the queen of the flat top grill – next tosses a fistful of cilantro, scallions and pickled mustard tubers across the crepe, before doubling it over on itself and slathering it down the center with a sticky, sweet tian mian sauce and fiery chili oil.

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The almost finished jian bing is topped with a fried crunchy wonton skin or youtiao cruller, and finally folded into a pocket before being sliced down the middle and handed over to the lucky patron. 

The ideal jian bing comes down to texture and taste ratios: a crispy crepe exterior; soft eggs; loads of aromatic cilantro and scallions; equally generous portions of chili oil and sweet paste; and the crackliest of wonton skins. 

There is nothing it can be compared to, positioned in a league of its own above all else. 

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Cong You Bing 葱油饼 | Scallion Oil Pancake

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Another commonly found, yet anything-but-commonly flavored breakfast treat is cong you bing, a dense griddle-fried and baked scallion oil pancake flecked with green onions.

Rolled flat, sprinkled with scallions, rolled again, twisted and flattened a final time, the spring onion-studded dough bakes with buttery pleats that tear away in steaming layers.

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Sometimes fully fried, sometimes fully baked, sometimes a combination of the two, the key is in the flaky crust – a crackly canvas surrounding a chewy center – one that is moist without being overly greasy.

These bad boys go for around RMB5 a pop.

Pro Tip: If you're lucky enough to come across a cong you bing baked with an egg on top, or (even better) inside, don't think twice, always go for one (or two!) – the gooey egg bursts with the initial bite, giving way to a perfectly salty crunch.

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Qian Ceng Bing 千层饼 | Thousand-Layer Bread

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Thousand-layer bread, or qian ceng bing, is a stretchy naan-like bread sold at most breakfast stalls around China.

Owing its name to the stacked stratum that make up its shape, its signature elastic pull is truly irreplaceable. 

Sometimes dubbed 'Chinese pizza' by locals, the salted folds are interspersed with scallions and sesame seeds, plus an option to add on a painted stripe of chili oil, as if that was ever a question.

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Qian ceng bing is sold by weight; so just state how many kuai worth you'd like to purchase, and you will be served accordingly.

RMB4-6 is a solid starting point for a hefty snack-size portion.


Ji Dan Bing 鸡蛋饼 | Egg Bread

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The elusive ji dan bing has become harder to find of late, as less vendors sell it due to the extra mafan it takes to make. So when you do finally find a vendor touting this coveted fried bread, make sure to stock up.

Like the thousand-layer bread’s overweight cousin, the ji dan bing is airy and plush, bubbling up in all of its equally gluttonous and glutinous glory. 

Baked with a runny egg topper and finished with a variety of sauces, this carbo load of joy usually leads to a nap within 15 minutes of consumption.


Qiang Bing 羌饼 | Shanghai Flat Bread 

Sitting at the intersection of cong you bing, qian ceng bing and ji dan bing is the qiang bing, a leavened savory pancake of sorts, speckled with fragrant scallions, dusted with sesame seeds, and folded into fluffy layers. 

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Throughout the country, the qiang bing varies slightly, but can be recognized by its signature 'pillowy poof' – owed to active yeast included in the dough – nestled inside a golden brown crust.

After rising, the dough is rolled out and enclosed in a oil-slick shallow pan so that the edges are pressed and fried while the center slowly steams – not a far cry from the baking method for Italian focaccia

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Best enjoyed hot and still sizzling, the qiang bing is sliced to order and purchased by weight (like its qian ceng bing counterpart), setting you back just a few kuai for a breakfast serving.


Shou Zhua Bing 手抓饼 | Hand Grab Pancake 

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The shou zhua bing hails from the ever-foodie famous Taiwan street markets, as a ‘sister-bing’ of the aforementioned cong you bing, yet flakier and griddle-fried. 

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There is no right or wrong way to shou zhua bing; some prefer it with anything from grilled chicken and hot sauce to those individually wrapped rubbery ‘hot dogs,' plus any smattering of pickled and fresh veggies.

Our go-to combination involves a sunny side up egg, lettuce, julienned cucumber, spicy grilled chicken and chili sauce, but we’re always open to suggestions.


Mei Gan Cai Rou Bing 梅干菜肉饼 | 

Dried Vegetable & Meat Flatbread

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Mei gan cai rou bing is a thin flat bread stuffed with sundried and pickled vegetables, plus bits of cured pork, before being baked to a crisp in a tandoori-like oven.

A lashing of tangy vinegared chili oil right before serving is the preferred manner to devour this type of bing.

Mei gan cai rou bing are sold for about RMB7; just look for the plumes of steam escaping a barrel-shaped oven.


Shao Bing 烧饼 | Roasted Sesame Seed Bread 

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When it comes to the wonderful world of bing, shao bing are the underdogs. And we've found some renditions to be bland and doughy with minimal redeeming qualities. 

Yet, when done right, they are shatteringly crispy  light on the outside yet dense and buttery inside, with a toasted crust.

The shao bing is easily recognizable by its signature topping of a liberal hit of sesame seeds, and available in flavors ranging from brown sugar or black sesame (for those with a sweet tooth), to minced pork-filled with scallions or dried vegetables (for those craving a savory breakfast sandwich vibe).


Hua Bing 花饼 | Flower Pancake 

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The flower-filled hua bing are traditional pastries hailing from Yunnan Province, but equally popular around the country.

Dating back to the Qing Dynasty, when the emperor mandated that flower cakes be given as a tribute to the Royal Palace, these treats have been popular ever since, with Yunnan’s year-round spring climate conducive to growing edible roses.

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Hua bing are conventionally stuffed with sweetened rose petals, the exterior reminiscent of a crumby moon cake filled with a treacly rose potpourri.


Xinjiang Nang Bing 新疆馕饼 | Xinjiang Naan Bread

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Found at Xinjiang restaurants across the country, this Northwestern China iteration of the globally recognized naan bread is best accompanied by a fat-glistening skewer of lamb chuanr.

Rolled into a ball, then simultaneously stamped and flattened using a convex, hand-carved piece of wood, these breads are baked by being stuck to the perimeter of ultra-high temperature barrel ovens, resulting in crispy edges. 

These Xinjiang naan breads come in a variety of shapes and sizes, and are sold from early in the morning all the way through into the wee hours.

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This article was originally published by the same author on August 25, 2020 and has been modified and updated to its current version. To read the original article, click here.

[Cover image by Sophie Steiner/That’s]

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