Don’t you just hate it when you travel on a passport that is easily falsely forged all over the African continent, thereby making it virtually useless for travel because no country trusts it anymore, resulting in your having to go home to get a new visa because traveling to Hong Kong for a new one will only get you another two weeks in China and the Entry and Exit Burea in Shanghai will then only give you a further ten days and so the pages in your passport would run out before you are next due to go home? Yeah, me too. So here I am back home for a few weeks when I had only just started finding my feet in China. I am surprisingly unhappy about this. As wonderful as it is being back in SA (especially at the start of Spring with the crisp blue sky and wild flowers popping up in any open space with a bit of dirt), it makes it very hard to feel like you belong anywhere when, well, you don’t. It’s impossible to settle down when you’re living out of a suitcase half the time and don’t know if you’ll be let back into the country two weeks from now. Oh well. I suppose I have no choice but to bask under the South African sun and eat and drink my way through the winelands while I’m waiting for my paperwork to come through. Woe is me.
Who would’ve thunk it a few weeks ago, but I kind of miss Shanghai. Okay, maybe not “miss” or “Shanghai” so much as I wish Adam were here and he’d bring along some of my favourite things from there. Most notably a few brown paper packets filled with cong you bing. I am jetlagging a bit and despite it being 5:30 in the morning my body clock thinks it’s lunchtime, and it wants them. Now dammit! Cong you bing (Chinese scallion pancakes) are probably my favourite street snack in a city that knows a lot about street snacks. Little old grannies and grandpas get up in the wee hours of the morning to prepare, knead and whack the crap out of the dough needed to make these thin, flaky bing. The greens of chopped up scallions are scattered into the dough which is folded and rolled a few times to create thin layers of flaky pastry – almost like puff pastry. The bing is then cooked on a cast iron pan with not a modest amount of oil and brushed with a delicate, almost jammy spice mix (the recipe of which is guarded more closely than Colonel Sanders’ eleven herbs and spices) and sprinkled with sesame seeds or fresh scallion. Sounds pretty basic right? But trust me – it is the perfect balance of doughy and crispy spiced goodness. The little mom and pop stalls are usually run by the women in the morning and the men in the evening. So, if you prefer your vendor to wear a shirt, get there early as the grandpas aren’t always all that partial to covering their torsos in the heat of a Shanghai summer evening. (It’s best not to think whether this adds to the secret flavour…) The bing are sometimes folded around various other fillings such as spicy pepper or egg. You can eat your fill on about US$0.50’s worth.
Ah Po Cong You Bing on Xiangyang Nan Lu is supposed to be one of the best places to get your bing fix, but really, if a flaky puff pastry, a slightly chewy but crisp, thin pizza base and a perfectly spiced dukkah got together for a ménage à trois, then cong you bing would be the love child everyone fights over at Christmas, so I’m sure it must be pretty good anywhere you try it.