You haven't lived until you've had a Beijing style jian bing. If you need something to compare it to, then think of it like a Chinese-style savory crepe; though, really, that description doesn't quite do it justice. Jian bing are actually most commonly found in China on the streets. Street food vendors set up small little shops on the side of the road with a giant hotplate to make jian bing for the locals. They are extremely popular outside of the various universities in China, as they are loved by students due to its attractive price, speedy cooking time and delicious ingredients. If all of that sounds fabulous to you, but you can't make it over the China to try it out, don't worry, because Mr. Bing just opened in Hong Kong and specializes making in all types of jian bing. If you haven't ever tried one, we would suggest that you go for their signature Peking Duck Bing, which is stuffed full of deliciously roasted Peking duck and crispy bits. They also make sweet bings, which are an interesting a delicious sweet alternative to the billions of cupcakes and frozen yogurt desserts that now seem to be available all over Hong Kong. Definitely our Best Bet for a quick, delicious and affordable meal. Here, we chat to Mr. Bing creator Brian Goldberg to pick his brain about food and style!
This is their Shanghai Bing, which is a lighter fare made from dried pork floss, egg and a combination of delicious herbs and sauces.
What exactly is a jian bing and why do you love them so?
Jianbing are traditional Chinese crepes, typically served on street carts in Northern Chinese cities. It consists of a flour crepe (usually green bean or millet) with an egg spread around the surface, topped with leeks, cilantro, black sesame seeds, sweet brown sauce, spicy chili paste, fermented tofu sauce, and either crispy wonton skins or youtiao (fried dough sticks)… all wrapped up in to a pocket. Different kinds of meat or sausage are sometimes placed inside as well. The variations depend on which city you are in, and the individual style of the vendor.
Tell us a little bit about Mr. Bing.
Mr Bing is the realization of a business dream I have had for over 10 years, to introduce jianbing outside of China. I used to eat it everyday as a student in Beijing, and when I realized I couldn’t find it overseas, I decided to change that. I wrote the original business plan back in 2001, initially intended as a chain of street carts in New York City. But the timing wasn’t right for me to make it reality until just recently. Mr Bing takes the humble jianbing - old school, nostalgic Beijing street crepes - and serves them in a modern hutong-style cafe. The flagship HK store provides a quick, hot & affordable alternative for breakfast, lunch, dinner and late night bites.
The bright, happy colours of Mr. Bing.
Electric sekki specialises in fashion so, we have to ask, how would you describe your personal style?
My friends laughed when they heard I have to answer this question, because I’m not exactly known as the fashion king! I am definitely the sporty-casual bright color type. My ideal daily wear consists of:
1. Stretchy wakeboard shorts with at least 2 pockets (it’s hard to find board shorts with good pockets!), 2. An ultra soft good-fitting tee shirt in a bright color.
3. Flip-flops with good support, because I’m totally flat-footed.
If I’m not in beach-wear and actually forced to wear long pants, I would say jeans or khakis, snazzy brown leather shoes, a light cashmere sweater, and my famous bright blue goat leather motorycyle-style jacket. I love motorcycle-style leather jackets. I do enjoy getting dressed up every once in a while… but not often!
Speaking of fashion, we love the uniforms at jian bing. How did you design them?
Thanks for the feedback! I wanted something super comfy for the staff to wear, and which matched our old school street-style concept. Naturally, soft tee shirts and baseball-style caps (with a slight Mao twist) fit the bill. A lot of credit goes to our brand designers, Chinastylus & Jay FC, for coming up with all the details… especially the 70's retro 2-tone sleeves on the tee-shirts.
Quirky interiors featuring stills from one of our favourite Hong Kong movies, Chungking Express!
There is a large poster of Chungking Express at Mr. Bing. We are huge fans of that movie. Why decorate Mr Bing with a Chung King Express poster?
Chungking Express (filmed in 1994) holds a special place in my heart. It was the first movie to make me want to move to Hong Kong. It stars Wong Fei (a native Beijinger, so that’s the jianbing connection), and it takes place right on and around the escalator, which is where Mr. Bing is located, and also where I happen to live. In the movie, there are plenty of scenes with street food, which I love, and the subtextual political references to Hong Kong’s handover back to China, expiry dates etc. (pre-1997) also make it a fascinating movie to watch over and over again. I always wish I had the chance to experience HK pre-1997, but my first time here wasn’t until 1998!
Mr. Bing head honcho, Brian Goldberg, poses with what he calls a "master" of jian bing in Beijing. Brian opened Mr. Bing when he moved to Hong Kong from Beijing (where he was studying at university) and found that he couldn't get a hold of his favourite jian bing anywhere in the city.
How did you start Mr. Bing and what plans do you have for the future?
It was a combination of research trips to Beijing & Tianjin (the birthplace of jianbing), finding local partners in HK with F&B experience, and reading a few books about the history of Starbucks & McDonalds. But I guess the most important thing is my passion for the food itself, and the desire to introduce a bit of modern Chinese street culture to the world. After getting the operations at our flagship location running as smooth as possible, the plan is to expand to other locations, not just in Hong Kong, but also in Singapore, USA, and potentially other countries.
You seem to have great taste in food! What are some of your other favourite eateries in Hong Kong?
I love some of the other local places in our neighborhood: Tsui Wah for milk tea, Loyal Dining for a taste of the 60s, Lam Fung Yuen for HK-style French toast (sai duo see), Chopsticks Kee (right next to Mr. Bing). I also love Goldfinch Steakhouse in Causeway Bay (because of my obsession with Wong Kar Wai films, but also because the black pepper steak is good). Wang Fu for Beijing-style dumplings.
A photograph of a traditional jiang bing street food vendor in Beijing.
Are you a loyal devotee to jian bing or do you harbour any secret passions for other delicious Chinese street foods?
Beijing-style yogurt rocks, i.e., the thick drinking type (we are working on offering this at Mr Bing soon). Xian-style rou jiao mo (西安肉夹馍) are awesome, and yang rou chuanr (lamb skewers) are also pretty wicked, but jianbing takes the cake in my book!
What is your favourite jian bing flavour and why?
My favorite style jianbing would be the “high protein , low-carb” version: 2 eggs, roast meat, a bit less batter so it’s thinner and extra spicy sauce!
Tell us, what do you like to wear when you're cooking?
This one is easy: wakeboard shorts and a tee, especially because I don’t like sweating or being hot, so it's the best. Not to mention a darker colored shirt, because I invariably drip sauce on my shirts!
Mr Bing is located just under the Mid-Levels escalator at:
G/F, 83 Wellington Street, Central, Hong Kong.