In many cultures and countries, breakfast is considered the most important meal of the day. In China, people start to line up for breakfast in front of local “breakfast tables/stalls” (as I call them) as early as 7 a.m until 9 a.m before going to work or school.
Breakfast in China differs according to the region you are living in. The food itself is spicier in Chongqing, or Sichuan whereas it’s sweeter in Suzhou, and in the Jiangsu province one might say. Food, in the North and West, might be slightly salty. Hence, breakfast comes in all shapes, sizes, flavor, and taste. Some types of dishes are particular to one region while others are more common all around China, with certain peculiarities depending on the province.
- Guangdong cuisine is also referred to as Cantonese cuisine because of its capital, Guangzhou (Canton). Some of my friends rave about the Guangdong food and having tried that once, I can say that I love it too.
- Apparently, according to my source (See Note), Guangdong breakfast consists of fancy dishes and is eaten as a brunch rather than early in the morning.
- Guangdong breakfast consists of the morning tea and dim sum.
- Dim sum (点心: dianxin) is a type of baozi (包子), that is a steamed stuffed bun.
- There is a variety of dim sum
- Among the different types of dim sum, the ones that are most popular are guotie (鍋貼）which is pan-fried dumpling filled with meat and cabbage filling, and shaomai (烧卖), which is steamed dumpling with pork and prawns.
- North ( Beijing, Tianjin)
- People in the north mostly have flour-made dishes, like youtiao (油条), which is Fried Dough sticks, and baozi, steamed stuffed bun.
- The youtiao (Fried Dough sticks) are nowadays also sold in KFC, and though the traditional one is supposed to be longer and bigger, now, it’s smaller, for convenience sake I suppose.
- Though steamed buns (baozi) are found in places all over China, the ones in the north are special because they sometimes are not stuffed with anything. They are called mantou (馒头) and they are plain buns, with nothing inside.
- Apart from youtiao and mantou, a special drink that is popular not only in the North and all over China, but also which is one of my favourite drinks for breakfast is soy bean milk (豆奶: dounai, or 豆浆:doujiang).
- The one in the photo below is one that I have been buying from the local breakfast stalls since a few days now. Soy bean milk is popular not only in the north and everywhere I think. Soy milk are sold in the coffee shops like 85 café.
- Chongqing food is one of my favourites by far because just like Sichuan food, it is spicy and I love spicy food.
- Beside the common breakfast food, noodles are special to Chongqing. They are called Xiaomian (小面), because it contains no meat, only veggies and it is very cheap. According to my friend, Fantasia, it costs only 2 yuan in schools.
- Noodles are also common in other regions but they are cooked differently.
- Breakfast in Suzhou
- Suzhou is found in the Jiangsu province and is 30 mins by bullet train from Shanghai.
- The dishes are sweet and thus, the most popular breakfast food is tangyuan (汤圆), “soup ball”. It is eaten for the Spring festival or other famous festival in china.
- It is round and spherical in shape and can be big or small.
- The big ones normally contains red bean(紅豆湯:hongdousha) or black sesame ( 芝麻: zhima) while the small ones are empty. They are eaten as a desert but may also be eaten for breakfast.
- Another dish similar to tangyuan is jiuniang (酒酿) also known as laozao (醪糟), jiangmijiu (江米酒) or tianbaijiu (甜白酒). It is sweet fermented rice and the dish can be a combination of tangyuan and jiuniang.This is jiuniang (sweet fermented rice)This is a combination of the both dish.
- Shengjianbao (生煎包) or Shengjianmantou (生煎馒头) is very popular in Shanghai since the early 1900s.
- It is a pan-fried steamed bun and despite having the name mantou which means nothing inside, it is filled with pork.
- The traditional baozi contains pork fillings but some varieties consists of chicken, pork mixed with prawns and pork mixed with crab meat.
- Jianbing (煎饼) or “fried pancake” is a traditional street food similar to crepe. It consists of a thin layer of dough which is cooked as a crepe and then an egg is cracked and spread on the mixture. You can also add soy sauce, or chilli as per your taste.
- Lettuce, leek and meat are put on the “pancake” and it is rolled and wrapped. It is eaten for breakfast but I used to eat it for lunch or dinner too because it’s very filling and cheap too.
- Xinjiang is a province in the West of China and has a large population of Muslim Chinese known as Uygurs. As such, the food reflects the culture of the people. The food has not only spread in the West China but also all over China. Street food vendors selling roasted lamb and naan are found everywhere, even in Suzhou.
- Other popular dishes all over China:
- Zhou (粥), that is congee or porridge is very famous. There are different varieties. They may consist of maize, red beans, pumpkin and others.
- One variety is called labazhou (腊八粥) which is served for the Laba festival, which coincidentally is today, the 24th of January. The Laba ( 腊八) is a traditional Chinese festival, celebrated on the eighth day of the La Month (or Layue 臘月), the twelfth month of the Chinese Calendar.
- baozi (包子) is a steamed bun. There are 2 types of buns, dabao(大包), which literally means “big buns” and xiaobao(小包) which means “small buns”. They can have different types of fillings, meat, cabbage, seaweed, maize, mushroom, pork,and so on. They are the most popular breakfast snack though they can be eaten for any meal.
- jiaozi (饺子) is a kind of dumpling which is flat and a semi-circle. Jiaozi typically consist of a gound meat and/or vegetable filling wrapped into a thinly rolled piece of dough, which is then sealed by pressing the edges together. Finished jiaozi can be boiled (shuǐ jiǎo), steamed (zhēng jiǎo) or pan-fried (jiān jiǎo).
- doufunao (豆腐脑) or douhua (豆花) or doufuhua (豆腐花) is a snack made of very soft tofu. In the North, it is eaten with soy sauce, in Sichuan it is eaten with pepper and chilli and in other regions in China.
- hundun (混沌） or wonton, wuntun Wontons are made by spreading a square wrapper (a dough skin made of flour, egg, water, and salt) in the palm of one’s hand, placing a small amount of filling in the center, and sealing the wonton into the desired shape by compressing the wrapper’s edges together with the fingers. The shape of the wrapper depends on he region. For instance, in Chongqing, it is a square while in Wushan it is a triangle. The filling vary depending on the region; pork meat, prawn, maize, mushroom, etc. It can be eaten with different sauces and condiments; soy sauce, peanut butter sauce, sesame paste in chilli oil sauce, etc.
- Family Mart (全家) is a chain of Japanese convenience store and you can find at least one in each locality or neighbourhood in China. In fact, there are 3 of those near my university. They sell coffee, milk tea, packed foods like sandwiches, frozen pasta, croissant, muffins, swiss rolls, juice, masks, cards, baozi, eggs, and a lot of other stuff. Many students can be seen going to buy breakfast at family mart.
- 85 °C Bakery Cafe is a Taiwanese chain of coffee shops and self-serve bakeries. They have egg tarts, croissant, pineapple Danish, bread, cakes, and of course a wide variety of hot and cold drinks; lemon tea, Americano, Espresso, 85 °coffee, pomelo tea, soy milk, etc. Last year I would buy breakfast from the local breakfast stalls but as exams neared I would go to 85 ° coffee shop for my daily dose of coffee. Last semester, I found out that there is a promotion every morning. Any coffee or soy milk is only 4 yuan if you buy a snack with it. For instance, I would buy a croissant, which would be 8 yuan and buying a latte would cost me only 4 yuan compared to the normal price of 14 yuan.
- KFC and McDonalds’. These 2 fast food chains also provide youtiao (Fried Dough sticks), egg tarts, coffee, tea and milk, etc..
Copyright © 2018 Deepika Pydatalli
Note: One of my friends, Renjie Chen, whose English name is Fantasia helped me with the types of dishes that Chinese people eat for breakfast. The list is not complete and may consist of dishes that I may not know of.
If you like this post, let me know if I should make it a series about popular Chinese snacks, or Lunch in China or something like that.
You may find the following articles helpful if you want to know more about breakfast in China.
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