Carboholic Heaven, Beijing Style

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Eve M. Tai
Carb-fix, Chinese style.
Rice, of course, claims the spotlight as China's primary grain. But the Chinese have a serious love affair with wheat too, especially when it comes to baked goods. Whether you translate the words as "bread," "roll," "pancake," or "bun," bao and bing seem to fuel the entire country of China. At a bakery near the lively Beijing alleyway neighborhood where I'm staying, the clerk ignores me when I ask for just one flaky butterfly pastry. "There's a two-yuan minimum," she barks. Where else are you required to buy a minimum number of baked goods?

At another local bakery, I have to clamber atop wobbly cement blocks to see the goods inside the scratched display case. Fried, crispy piles of crackers sit next to flatbreads the size of pizzas. A shelf on top features smooth, round bing that look like two halves of an English muffin fused together with a smattering of sesame seeds on top. My (Chinese) name is written all over them.

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Eve M. Tai
A regular peruses the goods.
I ask for a sweet-flavored one, and the clerk --an impatient young guy with a thatch cut--yanks one out.

"What's it called?" I ask. He raises his eyebrows and frowns. "It's a little bing," the guy finally replies. (I'm sure if he knew how to say "duh," he would have.) I pay him his 12 cents--12 cents!--and take it back to my hotel's balcony to enjoy. The "little bing" is more layered than a Chinese government ministry and certainly loads more endearing. Sweeter too, thanks to the touch of sugar mixed with a light layer of sesame paste. These particular bing come in savory options too, ranging from plain to shredded pork bits or scallions.

They say that you can eat a full Chinese meal and be hungry an hour later. Now I know how the Chinese make it from one meal to the next. Bing and bao can cure any carb fix and keep you anchored until dinner time too.

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