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San Francisco

Tai Chi Jianbing Brings Popular Chinese Street Snack To Outer Sunset

Jianbing, the savory crepe that's a highly popular Chinese street snack, is making its way to San Francisco—and with the arrival of Tai Chi Jianbing, adventurous Outer Sunset eaters can be the first to try this delicious treat.

Made fresh in humble stands across China, jianbing is both soft and crispy, a contrast in textures that delights its many fans. Originally from Shandong Province, the dish has a history that can be traced back to the Three Kingdoms period (220-280 A.D.)

Jianbing can be made with assorted batters, including millet and mung bean, but the most common mixture is made of wheat flour. After the fresh batter is spread across the cooking surface, an egg is cracked and cooked in the middle of the pan. Common additions include a crisp, fried layer of dough, as well as scallions, cilantro, and spicy sauces.

A jianbing street stand in Beijing. | Photo: Fiona Lee/Hoodline

Despite the popularity of other common Chinese street foods, like dumplings and buns, jianbing has yet to make a splash in San Francisco. But Tai Chi, which is opening on Sunday as a pop-up inside Osaka Imai (2445 Noriega St.), hopes to change that.

While jianbing is often eaten as a breakfast food, enterprising vendors in China have also set up near busy nightclubs or construction sites. “People in China eat jianbing every day,” explains co-founder Cheng Hu, a Shenyang native who's lived in San Francisco for eight years. “As more Chinese people have come to the Bay Area, they say they really miss it.”

Making a jianbing on the streets of Beijing. | Photo: Fiona Lee/HoodlinE

The Tai Chi Jianbing pop-up will carry classic jianbing, as well as varieties with chicken, beef, or ham. Prices will range from $8-$15, depending on what customers add to their meal.

While that may seem steep for a street food that runs the equivalent of a dollar or two in China, Hu explains that that there are pressures regarding the price of sourcing top-notch ingredients.

“We want our customers to eat healthy, and we really care about food ingredients and the environment,” he said. "We work closely with local farms ... Some Chinese restaurants use ingredients that might not be the best quality. We want to change that perception, by using high-quality ingredients." He hopes that as Tai Chi Jianbing takes off, prices will be lowered through volume.

A finished Tai Chi jianbing. | Photo: Fiona Lee/Hoodline

To help spread the word about jianbing, Hu and Tai Chi Jianbing are also planning a food truck later this year, with a similar model to the pop-up. He plans to take customer feedback on the various jianbing into account, refining the company's offerings.

“Each jianbing will be unique,” Hu says, “but we guarantee that each one will be delicious.”

Tai Chi Jianbing will be open for business on Sunday, June 5th, from 10am-2pm at Osaka Imai (2445 Noriega St.). The pop-up will operate for 30 days.

Editor's note: This interview was conducted in English and Mandarin.

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