LYNNWOOD — Until very recently, you had to travel to China to eat jianbing, a savory pancake that’s been around for generations.
Now, you need only travel to Alderwood, where Mr. Simon’s Chinese Pancake has set up shop near the mall’s food court.
But these pancakes aren’t the like the ones you have for breakfast. They’re more like crepes, and they’re stuffed with savory things, such as kimchi, grilled chicken and Peking duck, and topped with your choice of sauce and seasonings.
Who is Mr. Simon? That’s owner Simon Kou. His father, a jianbing maker in the Bejing area, taught him the family trade. Kou moved to the U.S. about four years ago.
Legend has it that jianbing (jee-yen bing) was invented after an army lost their woks before a battle during the Three Kingdom era (220-280 AD). A general named Zhuge Liang decided to spread batter on shields over a flame and add different ingredients into the mix. The army won its next battle, and the fable grew from there.
Jianbing started to flourish about 450 years ago in the coastal city of Tianjin. Today, the streets of Beijing, Tianjin and other northern Chinese cities are filled with carts selling steaming orders of jianbing.
Over the past few years, the dish has spread to American cities including Seattle, San Francisco and New York, where jianbing vendors want it become as ingrained as tacos and falafel.
“In New York City, it’s already really famous,” said Sophia Su, general manager of Mr. Simon’s Chinese Pancake.
Here, it isn’t as well-known. Su, 22, of Seattle, says Mr. Simon’s has mostly flown under the radar since opening about five months ago, probably because locals are still figuring out what Chinese pancakes are.
“When they see it, they’re always very curious,” she said. “They feel like it’s going to be small with honey and bananas. Then they ask, ‘Does a pancake with a salty flavor taste good?’”
Yes, it does. And part of the fun is seeing the pancakes made in front of you.
The batter is spread on a round cast-iron griddle, then covered with egg and sprinkled with seasame seeds, cilantro and green onion. Each pancake is then painted with up to two sauces: hoisin, barbecue, teriyaki, ranch, hot chili sauce and traditional (a mixture of soy, garlic, sugar and water).
The fillings — pork, bacon, grilled chicken, Peking duck, kimchi and crispy wonton — are laid on the pancakes, which are then neatly wrapped and handed over, still steaming.
Fortunately for neophytes like me, Mr. Simon’s Chinese Pancake has seven pancakes to choose from — barbecue, ham and cheese, grilled chicken, traditional (sausage franks), Peking duck, pork sung and veggie.
My first order was barbecue ($8.75), filled with char-siew (barbecue pork), crispy wonton, lettuce, hot chilli sauce and traditional sauce.
Each bite was savory, sweet and spicy, all at the same time. There was also a satisfying crunch from the crispy wonton stuffed inside.
I also ordered grilled chicken ($7.95) with teriyaki sauce and the same toppings. This one’s flavor was slightly more subdued than the barbecue, but it was still delicious.
Su recommended first-timers try the ham and cheese pancake with ham, shredded cheese and ranch ($8.95), just because it’s the most familiar.
Mr. Simon’s Chinese Pancake also makes dim sum (steamed dumplings), sweet crepes made with oreos, banana, chocolate and whipped cream for dessert, and serves honey fruit tea and soy milk to drink.
Evan Thompson: 425-339-3427, firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @ByEvanThompson.
If you go
Mr. Simon’s Chinese Pancake, 3000 184th St. SW, Lynnwood, is open 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Saturday and 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Sundays. Call 206-612-0314. More at www.mrsimons-chinese-pancake.business.site.