Ever try a new dish and immediately regret not having grown up eating one every week?
Jianbing is an immensely popular Chinese street food that Western food writers often liken to French crepes, because each starts with a batter spread thinly on a flat-top that is then wrapped up with various fillings.
But this is also where most of the similarities end. Instead of only wheat flour, jianbing recipes often use mung bean flour or millet flour. And the fillings don’t shy away from dramatic textures or contrasting sauces. I fell for jianbing after basically one bite.
The dish was nearly impossible to find in the city until Jian opened inside the Chicago French Market a few years ago. But I’m happy to report we have another fine option, Monkey King Jianbing, in Chinatown.
Thing is, if you weren’t looking for Monkey King Jianbing, chances are you’d never know it exists. Sure, the restaurant is small — all told, it’s little more than the size of an SUV — but it’s also located down a long hallway on the second floor of a half-finished building. You’ll know you’re in the right place when you pass a COVID-19 testing site.
Besides a small table in the hallway, there’s nowhere to sit, so most people place carryout orders online. But order in person and you get the added bonus of being able to watch jianbing as its being made.
Order the original jianbing ($6.50) and the cook will spread out a batter on a large circular griddle, crack on an egg or two, before adding a sweet bean sauce and a chile sauce. Then it’s sprinkled with cilantro, scallion and black sesame seeds, and covered in crisp cold lettuce and crunchy sheets of fried dough. (In Chinese, it’s called 薄脆, which I’ve seen Romanized as baocui, bocui or guobie.) It’s then folded over and cut in half, making it a handy dish to eat on the go.
Each bite alternates between crunchy and soft, sweet and spicy, hot and cold. It’s a dish that tastes as good at breakfast as it does for lunch. But this is also just the beginning of the endless variations. Branch out from the original and you can add in hot dogs, crab sticks, rousong (sometimes referred to as meat floss) or freshly fried chicken.
Monkey King Jianbing, 2252 S. Canal St., 2nd Floor, Unit 228; 312-526-3535
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