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Mr. Bing brings Chinese street food to Times Square

The Chinese crepe jian bing is found in street carts all over Beijing, where Brian Goldberg had one every morning while studying abroad. With Mr. Bing, he's brought them back home with him.


From his cheerfully orange Mr. Bing booth at UrbanSpace’s Garment Street Holiday Market, Brian Goldberg is serving up something you’ve probably never heard of before.

Jian bing is the street cart food staple in Beijing, where he studied Mandarin in 1998. The stuffed crepes begin with a savory dough made of green bean flour, somewhere between a pancake and a French crepe in thickness.

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The batter is poured onto a crepe machine and sprinkled with sesame seeds and spring onions as it cooks. Next, a sweet-ish “house sauce” and chili-based paste are brushed on before a hefty handful of cilantro and the “heart of the bing,” thick slabs of crispy wonton skin, are added.

Prices range from $10 for the classic version — made from the same recipe Goldberg bought after taste-testing his way across the Chinese capital — to $14 for culture-crossing fillings like barbecue pulled pork, bacon and cheese, and Peking duck, the most popular flavor and a source of amusement for Goldberg: “It’s ironic to put something luxurious like Peking duck, which is an expensive meat and kind of unique and kind of special, inside this cheap wrapper.”

Breaking with tradition — crepes are never sweet in China — there are also two dessert bings ($8) on the menu, made with Nutella (for the Europeans) or a peanut butter-condensed milk combo that goes on toast in Hong Kong.

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Though he insists his bings are otherwise authentic, Goldberg says Mr Bing’s is a “cleaner, healthier and more fun” jian bing than what he ate in Beijing. The 38-year-old Columbia graduate actually had a business plan written for a Mr. Bing shop since 2001, when he was studying for a masters degree at the university. But then he got a little busy.

After careers that included Olympic-level luge (2002), working as a page at 30 Rock and trading stocks for foreign investment banks in Taiwan, Goldberggot re-inspired three years ago after a weekend trip to Beijing and reading Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz’s book “Pour Your Heart Into It.”

The idea of creating something that people could hold and enjoy resonated with him: “In the stock market, you’re moving people’s money around, and it’s interesting and stimulating and it pays really well, but you’re not making anything physical,” he said.

Mr. Bing was well received when it opened in Hong Kong in 2012, but “rookie mistakes” combined with the protests that shut down the city for months led him to close the store and move back to New York six months ago.

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When friends convinced him to resurrect Mr. Bing here, Goldberg rejected the idea of opening another store as too expensive, but the opportunity to hone his concept at a pop-up market appealed to him. UrbanSpace initially told him there were no vendor openings until the spring — then he went in to do a taste test.

“Within a minute they’re like, ‘Actually, we’ll have a space available for you next week,’” he recalled. Suddenly, he had about 10 days to get ready to open in the Theater District market. His assets: one crepe machine, one banner left from Hong Kong, and a few T-shirts and hats. He pulled it off by recruiting staff directly from UrbanSpace’s Broadway Bites market, which was closing for the winter, and is often behind the counter himself.

After the market closes on Dec. 24, Goldberg plans to keep Mr. Bing going through catering gigs and, eventually, a food truck — maybe even Anthony Bourdain’s Asian street food-themed mega food hall. Until then, try it while you can.

 

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