Most tourists come back from China with just a T-shirt, or a cheap, stolen iPhone from a Shenzhen back alley. But Alisa Grandy returned with a deep hankering for jian bing—Chinese breakfast crepes she ate constantly while she was there. "When she got back from China, that's all she would talk about," says her husband, Neal, at the couple's Bing Mi food cart, while spreading mung-bean batter across a hot plate. "Six months later, we've got a food cart."
Jian bing is the quintessential Chinese street food, found on every Northern roadside—but until now, nowhere in Portland. They're mung-bean-and-millet crepes folded around a riot of ferment and sweet heat: Black bean and chili pastes mingle with herbs, pickled bamboo and mushroom, and an optional sweet plum sauce that I heartily recommend. The real piece of genius, though, is that big brick of wonton cracker and its deeply rewarding crunch.
Jian bing ($6) is the only thing on the menu, and even the option of mild, medium and hot is an illusion: They're all pretty mild. It is a heartening specialization, and the gamble has been borne out by the business and the quality. They're already so busy they've got two crepe-makers on back order.
It's not a surprise. The jian bing is flat-out fantastic, whether with or without the sweet Chinese sausage you can tack on for a buck. Indeed, the meat texture is a bit of a fifth wheel amid the already bustling party of flavors.
After returning from China, Grandy spent months perfecting the right mix of ingredients, and it shows. Her husband says Chinese customers nostalgic for the dish have offered compliments. Now the real question is, where's our soup dumpling cart?
- Order this: Jian bing ($6).
EAT: Bing Mi, Southwest 9th Avenue and Alder Street, bingmiportland.com. 7:30 am-3 pm Monday-Friday, 11 am-4 pm Saturday.