Fast-casual Asian concepts have typically focused on ramen, sushi, noodles and stir fries. But a popular Chinese street food is emerging across the U.S.
Meet the bing.
This common dish in China is typically eaten at breakfast. But in the U.S., a growing number of bing concepts are popping up, offering customers a hand-held meal that works across all dayparts.
Most concepts serve the jian bing from Northern China, which has a crepe-like batter into which fillings are folded. The bing is made-to-order and fully customizable.
These concepts are also developing with flexible formats, from bicycle-driven street carts to food halls and brick-and-mortar restaurants.
Get to know the bing concepts popping up across the country.
Mr. Bing: Crafting the ‘Egg McMao’
Mr. Bing debuted in 2015, in New York, as a pop-up by former Wall Street trader Brian Goldberg, who fell in love with the crepe-like jian bing he ate while studying in Beijing.
Now with two pop-up locations, Goldberg opened the first brick-and-mortar Mr. Bing earlier this year, at the Urbanspace Vanderbilt Food Hall near Grand Central Station. A second location, with a commissary and catering capability, is scheduled to open this summer in Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood, with a third permanent food cart also coming later this year.
Mr. Bing serves a Northern Chinese style of bing, like a savory stuffed crepe, filled with peking duck, barbecued pork or drunken chicken in Shaoxing wine sauce, although a classic vegetarian version is also available. Prices range from $10 to $15.
“It’s the ‘Chinese crepe-wich,’ a Chinese savory crepe folded into a sandwich,” Goldberg said. “Or the ‘Egg McMao,’ as some of us old China hands affectionately call the bing.”
Goldberg envisions opening five to 10 small units across the New York area, perhaps targeting college campuses, high-foot-traffic transit hubs and office districts.
Since November 2015, the company has netted $1 million in sales, although the first brick-and-mortar only opened in January.
Goldberg, who is weighing whether to franchise, recently hired former Shake Shack executive Matthew Silverstein as director of operations.
“We would love to see Mr. Bing grow to become the leading ‘bing brand’ in the USA, and to take pride in introducing Americans on a larger scale to the concept and culture of bings — an amazing, unique and visually entertaining Chinese street food with a universe of flavors and textures packed inside,” Goldberg said.
Fóumami: The shao bing specialist
Fast-casual Fóumami launched in 2010, in Boston, offering shao bing, which founder Michael Wang described as more of an unleavened flatbread that’s crisp and flaky on the outside and soft and chewy on the inside.
The shao bing are filled with family recipes from China’s Shandong region, as well as Korean flavors and curried chicken from Japan, for prices ranging from $7.29 to $9.
At breakfast, Fóumami serves cong you bing, also known as scallion pancakes, stuffed with an egg omelet and cheese, with the option of bacon or ham for $4.29.
Fóumami launched a franchising program this year. Wang said the broader world is ready for bing.
“When you look at how sandwiches have evolved with artisanal breads and cooked-from-scratch ingredients, it makes sense,” Wang said.
Panda + Tea: A variation on the bing
Panda Express is offering bing in a handful of restaurants in the Los Angeles area at its new Panda + Tea concept. Guests can choose scallion pancakes as the vehicle for the chain’s traditional dishes, such as orange chicken or broccoli beef.
Jianbing Company: Coming soon to Brooklyn
Jianbing Company has been serving Shanghai-style bing at the open-air Smorgasburg food market in Brooklyn, N.Y. The menu is based around traditional jian bing, made with organic eggs, scallions, cilantro, house sauces and Chinese “baocui” crackers for added crunch, priced at $8.
In addition to the original style, guests can choose various protein fillings, including lemon-garlic chicken, hoisin-lime beef, 13-spice pork or organic honey-ginger tofu. Filled bing are priced at $10 to $13.
Founded by Reuben Shorser and Tadesh Inagaki in 2016, Jianbing Company is scheduled to open its first permanent location in the DeKalb Market Hall in Brooklyn this month.
Bing Mi!: Taking it to the street
In Portland, Ore., the popular street cart Bing Mi! is looking for strategic partners for expansion to other cities, said Neal Grandy, strategic relations manager.
Bing Mi! serves traditional Beijing-style jian bing made with a scrambled egg, black bean paste, chili sauce, pickled vegetables, green onion and cilantro, all wrapped in a grilled crepe. The item is priced at $6, with add-ons like sausage and extra egg available.
In early June, Bing Mi! expects to open a second food cart in Portland. Grandy said the concept works well as a cart, but he’s considering brick-and-mortar micro-locations in cities like Seattle.
Tai Chi Jianbing: The lunchtime pop-up
In San Francisco, Tai Chi Jianbing has been serving jian bing at lunch from a pop-up at the Japanese hot-pot restaurant Nabe near Golden Gate Park for about a year.
Founder Cheng Hu is also serving at farmer’s markets and other street-vendor locations on some days, and bing are available for delivery and catering. He’s looking for a permanent location in a high-traffic area in San Francisco, he said, but that’s not easy to find.
In addition to the traditional jian bing, Tai Chi offers a fish rousong version with egg, dried fish, kizami nori, crispy wontons, green onion, cilantro, roasted sesame, cumin, and the usual sweet bean paste and garlic chili sauce. There’s also a barbecue pulled pork version, and ham and corn.
Although bing are common in China, Hu said there’s still a learning curve for Americans. But, once they try it, they get it, he said.
“It’s a new food, but we’re getting a lot of come-back customers,” he said. “And we’re adding variety. We have three or four flavors now, but we’re adding more.”
Contact Lisa Jennings at [email protected]
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