All over the western world people enjoy Chinese food for lunch or dinner. But even the most adventurous tend to look for the food they are comfortable with at home when it comes to breakfast time. If you are staying in a foreigner-friendly hotel in China, they may well be cereal and milk, or eggs on toast, on the breakfast buffet, but wouldn’t it be better to complete your Chinese adventure by going out there to eat a real Chinese breakfast?
Selling breakfast by the roadside: Wontons, Noodles...
There is a basic Chinese philosophy that says we should not waste the best part of the day, especially if we want to be a winner, or a leader.
Before work, and before breakfast, many people do their exercises. You will see people on their balconies, in the park, and in any open spaces doing yoga, walking backwards, swinging their arms and slapping themselves, walking, running, stretching, everyone has their favorite routine.
In general, the day starts early for school children, office workers, and farm workers, pretty much everyone and for most places breakfast is not a leisurely sit-down family feast. Most people rely on street foods and snacks, grabbing something from their favorite stall on the way to school or work. You will see children on their way to school sucking on a straw poking out of a plastic bag full of soymilk purchased along the way.
China is a massive country with a huge population, so naturally there must be a variety of different flavors and cuisines, mostly depending on which part of the country people are from.
Despite the regional-based variety of breakfast foods, there are some factors that are common to all regions. Breakfast is important enough not to be skipped, but people don’t spend time preparing or consuming it, they don’t sit down to read the newspaper over a home-cooked meal. They do like breakfast to be hot and ready to be grabbed on the run.
However, this can be different in Guangzhou, where a leisurely breakfast with tea can be enjoyed especially on weekends.
Southern cuisine uses lots of chilies and pickles, and dishes have a lighter flavor than in the north. Here are some of the most common choices.
Yam Cha, or Morning Tea and Dim Sum. This Cantonese style breakfast is customarily a leisurely occasion which is enjoyed especially on weekend mornings. Tea (of various interesting flavors such as green, oolong, jasmine, chrysanthemum and so on) is drunk along with a variety of dishes served in steamers or on small plates. These ‘dim sum’ are from a huge variety of mostly savory little snacks, that may be steamed, deep fried, or boiled, and include rice, noodles, dumplings and buns.
Zongzi. These leaf-wrapped sticky rice bundles are popular all over China, with a number of varieties available depending on the region. They vary in shape, and size, and in the fillings. Some are sweet with fillings such as walnuts, dates, or bean paste. Others are savory with fillings such as ham, egg, or chicken. All of them are delicious and you would enjoy trying them.
Rice Noodles. Boiled rice noodles are popular at any time, including breakfast. Various ingredients are chosen as additions such as fried peanuts or soybeans, thinly sliced meat, chopped scallions, or pickled mustard. You should try them at least once.
Tofu Pudding. People in the south of China like to have a sweet version of this comforting pudding which they enjoy with ginger and brown sugar syrup. (Elsewhere it is a savory dish.)
Wontons. Wontons can be boiled in a fragrant and watery broth, steamed in a bamboo steamer, or fried in a high-heat wok. Sometimes, wontons are also served with little noodles to make 'wonton noodles'. They are available with a large variety of fillings, such as ground pork, shrimp, fish, mushrooms, and other vegetables.
Northern Chinese cuisine is generally strong and salty, and the dishes are usually oily and meaty, often flavored with garlic and scallions. Wheat products are especially popular in the north. Here are some of the breakfast you could try in the north of China.
Buns – steamed, and stuffed. These remarkably light, fluffy buns are made with wheat flour, and can be plain or filled with savory meat or vegetables, or with sweet red beans. They are a real comfort food and palatable even for foreigners at breakfast time.
Deep Fried Dough Sticks. Another wheat-based food, these delicious pairs of dough-sticks are commonly enjoyed dipped into a steaming bowl of sweet soymilk. You will find this a very acceptable breakfast, not being too different from food back home.
Rice Porridge, or Congee. Delicious rice porridge, or congee, is often eaten with all sorts of additions such as pickles, peanuts or meat. It is sometimes eaten with fresh pancakes, and is a great start to the day.
Zongzi. In the north, these leaf-wrapped glutinous rice parcels are rectangular and usually contain a sweet filling such as red bean paste, egg yolk, or lotus seeds. You don’t want to miss out on tasting these delicious treats.
Tofu Pudding. In the north, this soft tofu pudding is a salty meal, served with soy sauce and possibly meat.
Wheat noodles. A big bowlful of hot, fresh, flavorful wheat noodles is a very popular breakfast that is simple and satisfying.
Pancakes with Eggs. The pancakes are usually wrapped around a deep-fried crispy dough slice and topped with fried egg, finely chopped mustard pickles, scallions, coriander, and a spicy sauce.
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