What the Chinese Eat for Breakfast

What the Chinese Eat for Breakfast

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?

How important is breakfast in China?

Breakfast has traditionally been an important meal in China, both for nutritional and cultural reasons. In Chinese culture, breakfast is seen as the most important meal of the day, and it is often considered the key to a healthy and productive day.

Historically, breakfast has been an important part of Chinese culture for thousands of years. In ancient times, breakfast was considered a crucial meal for both physical and mental wellbeing. This was especially true for farmers and laborers who needed a substantial meal to sustain them throughout the day. Breakfast was typically composed of rice or porridge, along with vegetables, meat, and soup.

One reason breakfast is so important in China is because it provides energy and nutrients for the day ahead. This is especially important for people who have physically demanding jobs or who will be engaged in mentally taxing activities throughout the day.

In addition to providing sustenance, breakfast in China has also been closely tied to social and cultural rituals. In many parts of China, it is customary to eat breakfast with family members, friends, or business associates, and the meal is often seen as an opportunity to build and strengthen relationships.

早茶 is a Chinese term that literally translates to "morning tea" in English. It refers to a traditional Cantonese style of dining, where a variety of small dishes, such as dim sum, are served with tea in the morning. Morning tea is more than just a meal in China - it is a cultural experience and a social activity. It is a time for family and friends to gather and enjoy a variety of small dishes, such as dim sum, steamed buns, rice rolls, and congee, along with tea. The dishes served during morning tea are often bite-sized, making them easy to share and allowing people to sample a variety of different flavors and textures.

Overall, breakfast is an important aspect of Chinese meal habits and culture, and it is valued for its nutritional and social benefits.

What do Chinese people eat for breakfast?

What do Chinese people eat for breakfast?
Bamboo steamer in the breakfast shop.

Chinese breakfast holds some unique characteristics that give a snapshot of both its cultural richness and regional diversities:

Most popular breakfasts in South China

Whether you're a local or a tourist, start your day like a true Southerner. Enjoy these essential breakfast dishes and start a new day with a comforting and delicious meal that will fill you with energy for the day ahead.

Yam Cha | Dim Sum

Small plates, big flavors.

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. Explore further on Dim Sum.


Treat Yourself to a Taste of Tradition with Flavor - Filled 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. Continue reading about Zongzi.

Rice Noodles

Guilin Rice Noodles
Discovering Delicacy: Guilin Rice Noodles, Your Bowl of Happiness

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. Dig deeper into Top 10 Rice Noodles in China.

Cheung Fun | Chang Fen | Steamed Rice Noodle Rolls

Cheung fun
A rice noodle roll, also known as a steamed rice roll, cheung fun and Changfen

Cheung fun is one of the most famous snacks in Guangdong and is greatly enjoyed in the Guangxi region as well. Starting the morning with a serving of this delicious, delicately thin-skinned dish stuffed generously with tender shrimp, fresh eggs, and other ingredients offers a silky, aromatic treat that lingers in the memory. Many people visiting Guangdong from the North will make Cheung Fun one of their must-try local foods.

Soy Milk and Youtiao (Yu Char Kway or Chinese Fried Dough Sticks)

Soy milk and youtiao
Soy Milk and Youtiao: The Unbeatable Breakfast Duo of China

This is the most classic breakfast dish, not only loved by the people of the South, but also a favorite of the North. Regardless of how often you eat the sumptuous, aromatic soy milk with the crispy-on-the-outside, soft-on-the-inside youtiao, it never loses its appealing taste.

Tofu Pudding | Tofu hua | Douhua or Doufu Nao

Tofu Pudding
Tofu Pudding with Ginger Syrup

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.)


Wonton with seaweed and lettuce

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.

Potstickers | Guotie

Potstickers: Sizzling on the Outside, Heaven on the Inside

Potstickers are a specialty snack of the South, known for their savory, juicy flavor. With its thin skin and abundant filling, they are a popular breakfast item in the Jiangnan (an area of Jiangsu, the south of the lower reaches of the Yangtze River) region.

Congee | Rice Porridge | Zhou 粥

seafood congee
Seafood congee in casserole

Southern China has taken congee, or rice porridge, and transformed it into a culinary masterpiece. Anything that can be used in cooking can find its way into a Southern-style congee. For example, 'Tingzai zhou' congee brims with the exquisite flavors of seafood, clay pot congee can include a myriad of mixed ingredients. Different variations like century egg and lean meat congee and liver, chicken, or red bean porridge are also common, with multi-grain porridges like mung bean or Eight-Treasure congee adding to the platter of choices.

Porridge in the North, on the other hand, tends to be more simple and light, with styles like sweet potato congee and millet porridge being popular.

And the best part? If you're preparing congee at home, the variety is endless — you can whip up a different, personalized bowl of congee every morning according to your culinary desires.

Most popular breakfasts in North China

Chinese breakfast

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.

What is the price of breakfast in China?

The cost of breakfast can vary significantly between the North and South of China. Generally, breakfast is cheaper in the North than in the South. In cities like Beijing or Tianjin, a simple breakfast such as a steamed bun or Jianbing (Chinese pancake) can cost around 5-10 Chinese Yuan (less than 2 USD). In comparison, breakfast in Shanghai or Guangzhou can be more expensive, with prices ranging from 10-20 Chinese Yuan (around 2-3 USD) for similar items.

The price of noodles or rice noodles in China can vary depending on the location, type of noodle, and restaurant or vendor. In general, you can find a bowl of noodles or rice noodles for as little as 10-20 Chinese yuan (approximately $1.50-$3 USD) at a local street vendor or small noodle shop. In more upscale restaurants or in tourist areas, the price can be higher, ranging from 30-50 Chinese yuan (approximately $4.50-$7.50 USD) or more for a bowl of noodles or rice noodles. Keep in mind that prices can also be higher in larger cities like Beijing or Shanghai compared to smaller towns or rural areas.

However, these prices are just an estimate and can vary depending on the specific location and type of establishment.

How early do Chinese people get up?

Selling breakfast by the roadside
Selling breakfast by the roadside: Wontons, Noodles...

The exact time that Chinese people wake up can vary depending on their occupation, lifestyle, and personal preferences. Here are some general trends for weekday and weekend wake-up times for different groups:


- On weekdays, normally, the students wake up around 6:30-7:30 AM to get ready for school.

- On weekends, students may sleep in a bit longer, waking up between 8:00-10:00 AM.


- On weekdays, workers in urban areas may need to wake up as early as 5:00-6:00 AM to commute to work.

- On weekends, workers may sleep in a bit later, waking up between 7:00-9:00 AM.

Breakfast Vendors:

- For breakfast shop vendors, they typically need to wake up extremely early to prepare food and open their shop before customers arrive. Many breakfast vendors in China wake up between 3:00-5:00 AM to start cooking and preparing food.

The wake-up time for Chinese people can vary widely depending on their occupation, lifestyle, and personal preferences. In general, many people in China tend to wake up early, even on weekends, due to cultural values that emphasize productivity and hard work.

Where do Chinese people eat breakfast?

A waitress at a breakfast noodle shop is preparing rice noodles for customers.

In China, people eat breakfast in a variety of places depending on their location, lifestyle, and personal preferences. Here are some common places where Chinese people eat breakfast:

Street vendors: Many Chinese people enjoy breakfast from street vendors who sell a variety of traditional breakfast foods such as steamed buns, fried dough sticks, soy milk, and porridge. Particularly for those who work in large cities, it's common to grab a pancake from a street vendor on the way to the office after exiting the subway station.

Cafes and restaurants: Cafes and restaurants that specialize in breakfast dishes are popular in urban areas. These establishments often serve Western-style breakfast items like coffee, toast, eggs, and bacon.

Markets and food courts: Many Chinese markets have food courts where people can grab breakfast before starting their day. These food courts offer a variety of breakfast foods and snacks, such as dumplings, noodles, and Chinese pancakes.

Fast-food chains: International fast-food chains such as McDonald's and KFC have a significant presence in China and offer breakfast menus that include both Chinese and Western-style items.

Home: Some people prefer to eat breakfast at home, where they can prepare their favorite breakfast dishes or enjoy leftovers from the previous day's meals.

Workplaces: Some workplaces, especially for big companies, may offer breakfast for their employees as a benefit. This can range from simple breakfast options like milk and bread to more elaborate meals like rice porridge and dumplings.

School canteens: In China, many schools have canteens that serve breakfast to students before class. These breakfasts often include hot meals like rice, noodles, and vegetables.

Bakeries: Bakeries are becoming more popular in China, especially in urban areas, and often offer a range of breakfast pastries, cakes, and bread.

Convenience stores: Convenience stores are ubiquitous in China and often offer pre-packaged breakfast items like sandwiches, yogurt, and fruit.

Home delivery: With the rise of food delivery services in China, many people choose to have breakfast delivered to their homes or workplaces. Popular food delivery platforms in China include Meituan and Eleme.

By Ruth Wickham
Chief Editor & Writer
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