The Secret Jian Bing of Buenos Aires, Argentina

vd (2)

One of my favorite foods in the world is the somewhat confusing jian bing 煎饼, or Chinese crepe. It’s a very popular street food in Northern China.

Unfortunately, it can be rare outside of the country. Now, thanks to a chef from Fujian, it can be found at a tiny window here in Buenos Aires, Argentina, too.

If, that is, you can read Chinese.

In China, the jian bing is not uncommon. It’s a breakfast street food staple in the North, sold on carts where it is made from scratch on a single coal burning hot plate.

Each chef has his or her own unique style (long or short fold, single cracker or double stacked, with or without meat) but the main ingredients are always the same: batter, egg, scallions, secret sauce, and a cracker for shape, all origamied together into a food without analogy—is it a crepe? Pancake? Flat burrito? An omelette? Yes and no. It’s a bing.

vd (4)

The bing comes from Shandong, a city in Northern China. It is just now beginning its spread around the world. It recently earned a feature in the New York Times.

In Buenos Aires, they can be found at El Cisne Blanco, or The White Swan, a Chinese restaurant on Arribeños, the main street of Barrio Chino.

There is a side room to El Cisne where Chef Biao 标 makes his bings. It’s only identifying mark, a handwritten sign “煎饼果子”, jian bing guo zi, in Chinese (no Spanish, no English, no Romanized letters at all) is the sole indication that you can find jian bing here in the Paris of the South.

I used to live in China, and I’m always looking for really authentic Chinese food. When I walked by this sign, I double, triple, and quadruple-taked before my mind accepted that it was real. There was jian bing in Argentina.

vd (8)

vd (7)

vd (6)

Chef Biao is from Fujian, China. He speaks Chinese and Spanish and only works Sunday afternoons, where he cooks up jian bings at el Cisne for an audience of mostly Chinese nationals.

There are approximately 130,000 people of Chinese descent in Argentina. In Buenos Aires, the Chinese diaspora centers around Barrio Chino, and many small supermarkets are run by people of Chinese descent throughout the city.

At El Cisne Blanco, the bings are jianbing guozi, which means youtiao, 油條, a fried Chinese dough, is used to give it that characteristic crunch.

El Cisne Blanco’s jian bing comes with pieces of succulent pork for $80 pesos. In China, they cost less than $1 U.S.D. on the street.