Ask any Taiwanese immigrant or expat what foods from the motherland they miss the most and there’s a decent chance that the first thing they’ll bring up is breakfast: Sesame flatbreads (shaobing) stuffed with fried crullers. Sweet and savory soy milk. And, perhaps simplest and most satisfying of all, the rolled egg crepes known as dan bing.
In cities like Taipei, these items are both ubiquitous and shockingly inexpensive, available from street vendors on almost every block. Here in the Bay Area? They’re practically nonexistent. Which is why it’s especially exciting that Taiwan Bento, a stalwart of Taiwanese cuisine in downtown Oakland, debuted its own version of dan bing — featuring the restaurant’s house-made scallion pancakes — this week.
According to chef and co-owner Stacy Tang, customers have been asking her whether Taiwan Bento would add Taiwanese breakfast to the menu pretty much ever since the restaurant opened in 2014. The restaurant is mostly known for its beef noodle soup, lu rou fan (minced braised pork rice), and other lunchbox-style meals, and, as Tang explains, because it’s a small operation, the owners never felt like they had the capacity to add a breakfast menu.
But the pandemic changed things, Tang says — made her more accustomed to having to shift gears and switch up the menu on a dime. She added scallion pancakes to the menu earlier in the pandemic in part because she wanted to be able to sell a frozen version too — to provide something for harried home cooks looking to stock their freezer with tasty convenience foods. Then, over the winter holidays, Tang traveled to Yilan, Taiwan, and fell in love with a scallion pancake dan bing that she ate while she was there. When she came back to Oakland, she decided the time was right to add a version to her own menu.
“Taiwanese breakfast is very comforting,” Tang says. “I think people especially need comfort food at this moment.”
Tang explains that in Taiwan, there are two main styles of dan bing. One features a simple, thin crepe that’s wrapped around a savory, scallion-laced egg omelette — that’s the kind most commonly found at the kind of street stalls that sell soy milk and other Taiwanese breakfast dishes. The other version, which includes the same style of egg wrapped inside a thicker, crispier scallion pancake, is the kind Taiwan Bento is selling. Priced at $12 an order, the “scallion egg pancake” is finished with a drizzle of soy paste vinaigrette.
For Taiwanese breakfast enthusiasts in the East Bay, the new dan bing might be the first of many exciting things to come: Tang says she’s considering starting a breakfast pop-up on Saturday or Sunday mornings. (For the time being the restaurant is only open for lunch and dinner.) In additional to the dan bing, she’s also experimenting with fan tuan, or Taiwanese-style rice rolls, which are often stuffed with pork floss, you tiao (fried cruller), and pickled vegetables. If that comes to fruition, it would be yet another Taiwanese breakfast classic that would be regularly available in a city, and a region, that’s long been hungry for this most comforting, deeply satisfying cuisine.