Nanjing and the Breakfast Conundrum
During the first week of classes, when the cafeteria stopped serving breakfast, I had a real panic. I had been to the store and bought instant oats and honey enough for well over a month. I thought I had solved the breakfast conundrum, but when I tasted my first batch, there was only bitterness, which no amount of honey could delude. It was then that I began to notice the more experienced of my classmates coming in each morning with steaming yellow shaped edibles wrapped in plastic bags. One morning, as I opened the window to gauge the day’s temperature, I looked down and saw where they had been going. I could see a women, her clothes frumpy and her face resigned, pouring batter onto a circular stove, spreading it thin, unloading the contents of an expertly-cracked egg onto the surface, sprinkling spices, flipping what now looked like a crepe, and folding until it was a steaming square of orange and yellow and green and brown inside a plastic bag. Money was exchanged, and the customer turned and walked down the street, eating his fill. Up in my room, I closed the window, took one look at the brown mush in my bowl, and went to class. For the next week I was too scared to go get that breakfast. I would walk down there only to break off into the convenience store next to the crepe stand, or I would convince myself that I didn’t have time and head straight to class. But it was only a matter of days before my desire for a warm breakfast trumped my cultural fright. It turns out I only needed to know one word in order to get what I wanted. Before I could point to the stove and say “一个” yīgè one please, she poured the batter and asked, “辣不辣?” là bù là? you want it spicy? Normally, I’m not one for spice. But this day was the beginning of something new, where I wasn’t going to be afraid to do something just because of how hard it looked. “辣” I said. These days, I leave my room at about 8:13 am every morning, cross the street, buy my 煎饼, or jiānbing, as I now know it to be called, and make it to class before the 8:25 start time. At 4RMB per, it’s the cheapest, spiciest, and best part of my day.