Have you ever asked yourself what happens when a 1,000-year-old Chinese snack meets the world’s most beloved (and possibly only) story of a differently-abled-park-bench philosopher? No? Well, you’re about to find out anyway, because a meeting of these beyond disparate worlds seems to have created Topwin Center’s hottest new stall.
Enter Agan Guokui, a Shanghai-based company and purveyor of Hubei-style oven-baked wheat pancakes. They’re also the reason you must now muscle through a line of people to even get to Topwin’s other basement offerings.
According to the brand’s website, Forrest Gump came into the equation because co-founder Gan Xiangyang shares both Gump’s Chinese name [阿甘正传 ā gān zhèng zhuàn] as well as his attitude towards life, stating that he is no stranger to “hardship and ‘eating helmets.'” We’ll wait for you to get your head out of the gutter before telling you that these buns are nicknamed helmets (盔 kuī) on account of their shape (a word that also happens to be a homonym for loss, 亏).
What that means for your tastebuds is some damn fine crunchy bread with a thin layer of vegetables or meat in the middle. The way they’re made is basically the same as how you’d make regular guokui except that at the point of frying they’re whacked on the inside of a clay oven, similar to those used to make Xinjiang-style naan. Though there wasn’t a huge difference in taste between the four flatbreads available (beef, lamb, veggie, and sun-dried cabbage, RMB 9-13), we would say the lamb and cabbage varieties stick out for their stronger flavors.
The best part about these lil helmets, however, is their versatility. Rather than constituting a meal on their own, they pair with almost anything. Hell, I ate mine with a shawarma (shout out Shawarma Dareen!) and it still went down a treat; doused in a liberal sprinkling of sesame seed they are moreish, buttery, and chewy, and vanish quicker than you’d guess given the size.Just like Mr. Gump, Agan has big plans, namely, to establish 1,000 directly operated stores and 3,000 franchise stores around China in 2019 alone, on top of the 30 pre-existing Beijing stores. It seems like this baby’s got legs.
Daily 8am-6pm. B1, Topwin Center, Chaoyang District
Photos: Tom Arnstein, Agan Guokui