The Post-Drink Meal that China Does So Right


Beer and fried food are a match made in heaven.

No one in their right mind questions that statement. However, deciding which fried food to grub on after a long night of Tsingtao interspersed with shots of dubious Chinese rice wine can be difficult.

Luckily, drunken hedonists all across Shanghai agree that bing is the kingpin of trashy, late-night snacks.

The word bing3//饼 is quite broad in Mandarin. It can mean anything from crepe, flatbread, cookie, or tortilla, but generally refers to anything with a dough fried in hot oil.

Varieties of bing abound. When you come to China, you’ll happen across a number of street-side bing stands selling something similar to a crepe with an egg cracked and cooked right on top of the thin mung bean dough. Add cilantro, onion, chili, peanuts, and a line of hungry locals behind you, and you’ve got a typical college breakfast. In fact, if you go to a certain joint in the south of Fudan University, you might catch me queuing up for a quick bite between classes.

(Tip: la4//辣 means spicy in Mandarin, and yes, you do want some. Lettuce and cucumber too.)

The one bing to really rule them all is the kind that’s eaten under the influence. This moonlight variety takes a different approach to the doughy classic: add more of everything. More salt, more spice, more egg, chive, and meat all fried in more oil for more crisp and more flavor.

It’s greasy, unhealthy, and unparalleled.

Sometimes these things take the form of a flat, crispy bun sliced horizontally and filled with a type of slow-cooked meat (think pulled pork) as you watch impatiently. Ancient China’s former capital, Xi’an, is the home of this variety — called rou4jia1mo2//肉夹馍.

Other times you’ll hit the jackpot and end up drunk, ravenous, and near a late-night stand that specializes in fried bing pockets. This kind is filled with noodles, veggies, egg, or chive and cooked to a crunch.

As is often the case in global cities, there is a melding of cultures, ideas, and (most importantly) cuisine. Shanghai is unique from most Western cities in that the diversity present here isn’t necessarily brought in by immigrants and foreigners but Chinese nationals from other provinces. All eight culinary cuisines of China are well represented, and Turkic, Hong Kongese, Muslim, and Buddhist influences can be tasted as well. My favorite kind of bing seems to fall into this ‘mixture’ category as the round, sesame bread tastes Turkic while the salty meat stuffing is a classic feature of eastern Chinese cooking.

No matter the type of bing, don’t expect it to do much for your health. The sodium content alone is enough to invite a heart attack. But hey, when in China, do as the locals do — live a little! If you need some convincing, half-liter bottles of Tsingtao run about $0.75 at the local grocery.

Advertisements

Author: Erik Fruth

Erik lived in Shanghai from September 2014 to July 2015 while studying Mandarin at Fudan University and teaching English. Since then, he's continued writing and working in Ventura County, California.