So a few weeks ago when I went to Dorado Tacos, I promised to rove further afield for my snack attacks. However, an interminable writing project has me stuck to my Butler Library routine, and all snacking must be done within a 100-yard perimeter this week, at least.
Fortunately, due to Columbia University’s rising population of Asian students, there are plenty of authentic Chinese food carts lined up outside College Walk at 116th and Broadway. When he was in the city, my adventuresome son, Angus, would bring home skewers of lamb kidney or Styrofoam containers of“skin noodles.” I was not tempted. Then word got out about The Flying Pig’s authentic Northern Chinese stuffed crepes. Even the New York Times is waxing lyrical about them.
The neon chartreuse Flying Pig truck usually parks outside Columbia on Tuesdays, so I decided I’d try a jianbing. I quailed at the prices—$9.00 for the cheapest, basic “vegetarian” one and $13 for one with a pork belly filling. Sticking to my $10 and under promise, I ordered the basic and asked the earnest fellow at the truck window what is in it. “Vegetables.” Well, make that “vegetable,” as the crepe enfolds one slickery piece of romaine lettuce. But don’t let this dissuade you. I’d eat this jianbing if it contained a piece of paper. It was that good. Any vegetable matter comes to you in the crepe batter (made in part from mung bean flour), which has a greenish cast, a slightly musky taste and is a thing of beauty. Bits of cilantro, scallion and also sesame seeds swirl within folds of yellow and white eggy pancake to create a pattern you might be happy to wear on a scarf. In fact wrap this around my neck, and I’ll eat my way through it—which might be less messy than eating this floppy creation with your hands! And in there with the lettuce is something surprising and satisfying: ultra-thin shards of “bao cui,” a crispy deep-fried fritter. Think sheets of retro won ton noodles slathered with a savory, spicy bean paste with echoes of sweet Hoisin sauce.
Another thing: $9.00 isn’t so much when each half—wrapped in plain brown paper and fastened with a thin strip of masking tape—is as big as your hand. This is definitely a shareable snack for two. As I walked home with it, I texted my daughter who was home on spring break, “I’m walking home with a Beijing crepe. You can have half.” No grey bubbles formed on my iPhone screen. Over a half hour passed until I got her text, “Yassss!” “Sorry, I ate it,” I texted back. Frowny emoji followed. But bada bing, bada jianbing! The Flying Pig will come back here and will fly to locations across the city. Check out NYC locations on its instagram @theflyingpignyc