If you’re a frequenter of Chinese 7-11’s, then you may have noticed a new addition to the snack section: they look like a healthy take on burritos, with bits of carrot and cabbage poking out the end, and they’re flanked with a sign that urges you to “bite into spring” (咬春yǎo chūn).
They are chunbing (春饼), otherwise known as “spring pancakes,” chewy tortilla-like wrappings that are filled with fresh seasonal vegetables like luobo (萝卜, radishes) and jicai (荠菜, shepherd’s purse). The snack is traditionally eat on Lichun (立春), a holiday that falls on the 4th and 5th of February, and marks the beginning of spring. The expression yao chun isn’t just savvy 7-11 marketing—it’s an traditional saying that refers to both embracing spring and using vegetables’ nutrition to prevent illness. It’s believed that once you “bite into spring,” you won’t feel tired for the rest of the season!
In keeping with their healthy, low-fuss character, chunbings are easy to make: simply mix flour, hot water and oil, roll out the dough, and cook in a wok or pan over a low fire. And you’re done! The pancakes are pliable and chewy, providing a toothsome contrast to the crunch of fresh, seasonal vegetables. Like other bings, chunbings can also be julienned and stir-fried to makechaobing (炒饼, fried pancake).
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Traditionally, chunbing and vegetables were presented on a single plate, called a chun pan (春盘, spring plate.) We know this from records dating back to the Tang Dynasty, which state, “On Lichun, people eat radishes, spring pancake, lettuce, which is called spring plate” (立春日食萝菔、春饼、生菜，号春盘, Lìchūn rì shí luó fú, chūnbǐng, shēngcài, hào chūn pán). From the Song Dynasty to the Ming and Qing Dynasties, chunbings grew more and more popular, with even the emperor sending out spring plates to all his officials. As for the common people, they would stuff their pancakes with radishes, which were very common and cheap, on Lichun. In the past in Beijing, hawkers would wander the hutongs from the early morning, carrying loads of radishes on their shoulders and shouting, “萝卜赛梨!” (Luóbo sài lí! My radishes can rival pears!) Even the very poorest families would buy some radishes to give their kids a chance to “bite into spring.”