Perry, the founder of New York Street Food, brings you his latest review on New York City street food.
The latest food trend to hit the NYC streets is jian bing. A few places to get jian bing have opened since last year, including a stand at the uber-popular Smorgasburg. There have been jian bing reviews on several food-based blogs, and even an article in the NY Times. Last summer was when we first tried jian bing, enjoyed it, and decided the time was right for a return visit.
In China, jian bing is a popular breakfast item. In NYC, it seems to have caught on with college students. Since college students tend to stay up late and sleep late, you can also get jian bing for lunch or dinner, which we did from the Flying Pig food truck. Since the Flying Pig often parks by colleges, this could just be a self-fulfilling prophecy (if you park by colleges, you most likely get students as customers).
The obvious comparison for jian bing is a Chinese crepe, especially since they start the process by putting batter on one of those round, crepe-making machines. An egg is then added, as is iceberg lettuce, some crunchy cracker-type filling, and meats if you want them.
Options on the menu were the original veggie ($9), garlic sausage ($12), pork shank ($13) and dried pork ($11). We weren’t quite sure what dried pork was and asked. They said it was hard to explain, but then showed us a large bag of dried pork. It looked a bit like sawdust, but they said it was somewhat sweet and a little salty.
Since we were trying something new with the dried pork, we also ordered a sticky rice cake for dessert for $2.
Service was good, and about 5-7 minutes after ordering, we walked away from the truck with a freshly-prepared jian bing and dessert.
The jian bing was cut into two halves, because otherwise it would be unmanageable to eat without a fork and knife sitting at a table. By cutting it in half, we were able to eat each half by simply folding down the paper wrappers in which they were placed.
Even though the usual jian bang comparison is to a crepe, with the egg added as the batter was still in liquid form, it was really more of a crepe-omelet hybrid. You could see the pieces of fried egg mixed in with the batter. An eggy batter, whether its jian bing or french toast, is something we particularly enjoy.
There were bits of dried pork coming out of the jian bing as we took the first couple of bites, but we could easily taste the flavor of the dried pork in the jian bing. When dry, it did have the consistency (but thankfully not the taste) of sawdust. Once inside the moist jian bing, the dried pork became a paste, and added a definite umami flavor, with a little bit of sweetness. We didn’t detect any saltiness, but that was fine.
After it was cooked, the jian bang was folded over a couple of times so everything became layered. Inside was lettuce, a slightly spicy sauce, and what we would describe as a type of cracker. The cracker softened up from the heat and steam of the jian bing, but still provide additional body so the jian bing could be picked up and eaten with your hands.
After finishing both halves of the jian bing, we tried the sticky rice cake for dessert. There were two rectangular pieces, each a few inches long. The cakes were fried and crispy on one side and lightly fried on the other.
The cake was very dense, but had enough sweetness to qualify for dessert. Each cake was about 4 inches long and about 1 inch thick. One for a dollar instead of two for $2 would have been better since lunch was already filling, but “there’s too much dessert” are four words you will never hear coming from our lips! However, we bet they would sell more than twice as many at $1 than they are currently selling for $2.
Jian bing is certainly one of the more unique items being served from a NYC food truck these days. With our love of everything egg-related, this was right up our alley.
Unfortunately, the Flying Pig is not that easy to find. They have a website here and a Twitter account that is not updated much. The best way to find the Flying Pig is on Instagram here, where they post their location every morning. Many days they are near NYU or Columbia University, although we caught them by Fordham Law School on the corner of 60th St and Columbus/9th Avenue a few days ago.