The Chen family to which my aunt is married to used to have a courtyard near West Balizhuang. When I was about five or six, I used to spend part of my summer there, where my uncle and I would climb onto a Chinese mahogany tree in the backyard to pick fresh xiangchun sprouts for the day’s dinner.
I used to dislike xiangchun because of its bizarre herbal aroma, which smells like a fusion of garlic and diet Dr. Pepper, and the unrefined manner in which the food was prepared: shinning up a tree in the backyard, chopping off some of the leaves, and throwing them into a stir-fry pan with eggs. Compared with my grandma’s sophisticated braised pork belly recipe, the dish was definitively primitive.
But over time I grew a fondness for these leaves that I disliked as a child, as many others have, and every single bite of the xiangchun sprouts in my chunbing wrap earlier this week at Chunbing Jing Wei Cai proved my childhood judgement wrong and transported me back to the Chen's courtyard and up the old xiangchun tree. The same herbal aroma blended in perfectly with the eggs, crustaceans, and hoisin sauce, and placing a generous amount of the dish into the wrap provided a satisfying crunch.
Chunbing is traditional northern Chinese dish that involves wrapping up stir-fried dishes with hoisin sauce by pancakes. The pancakes are often paper-thin and doughy, so I suggest using two for one wrap, so as to avoid the wrap breaking before it is devoured. The xiangchun sprouts tasted exactly as they had 15 years ago. Well, that may be nostalgia clouding my judgement. The hoisin sauce, to be honest, was a little on the salty side, so add with sparingly. The combination of components is addictive, each bite leaving you hankering for the next.
There are around a dozen fillings available – I would strongly recommend the xiangchun dish (RMB 20), named 农家炒三鲜, or Peasant Fried Three Fresh on the menu. 炒合菜 (stir-fried mixed vegetables, RMB 18), 菠菜炒鸡蛋 (scrambled eggs with spinach, RMB 18) and 尖椒炒鸡蛋 (scrambled eggs with peppers RMB 16) are other fine choices.
I am sure you will remember exactly how xiangchun sprouts and chunbing taste like twenty years on from your first bite, and it will bring you rushing back to that exact time and place, as it did for me at Chunbing Jing Wei Cai.
More stories by this author here.
Chunbing Jing Wei Cai
Daily 10am-11pm. 153 Yonghegong Dajie (opposite Cafe de la Poste), Dongcheng District (6406 2183)
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