When I eat chun-bing, I think of the smell of early spring in northern China. When I was a kid, springtime in Beijing was always associated with sandstorms. Dry wind brought sand from the desert to the northwest, and the arid smell was moistened by sparse spring raindrops. The air was full of growing things: willow catkins flying, poplar blossoms blanketing the ground, beetles hitting the window glass while from the street below I heard the sound, long-forgotten, of kids at play.
My mother said that spring is the season when children grow, and the olfactory stimulation was accompanied by the coursing of hormones through my young body. My mother was a good chef who kept a changing repertoire of dishes on the table as the seasons turned. Bus it was only at this time of year that chun-bings appeared, and in this way the wrap full of fresh vegetables that lay on my plate acquired a ceremonial significance. It was the beginning of a cycle, the aspiration to grow. My mom would count the number of chun bings I ate. Every time I took pride in breaking the record I set the previous year. On those cozy spring evenings — wolfing down half a chun-bing in just one bite, the juice of spinach, bean sprouts, and carrots bursting in my mouth and mingling with the flavor of the wheat wrap — I felt that everything was getting better.