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Chinese Breakfast Foods: What Do Chinese People Eat for Breakfast

Among the three meals of a day, breakfast is widely recognized as the most important one which provides the body with rich energy and nutrients and sets the stage for a productive day. With a long history and a vast territory, China boasts a rich and diverse culinary culture that reflects its regional and ethnic diversity. Chinese breakfast tradition is precisely a testament to the country’s profound culinary culture.

The variety of breakfast foods is one of the interesting aspects of Chinese food culture. In this article, we will introduce 10 popular breakfast foods in China that have been passed down for centuries. Each of them is not only delicious, but also reflects the culture, geography, and philosophy of the people in different regions. It’s highly recommended to try some of them when you travel to China.

Chinese breakfast - Youtiao and Soy Milk
Youtiao and Soy Milk

10 Traditional Chinese Breakfast

1. Soybean milk (Doujiang) and deep-fried dough sticks (Youtiao)

A classic Chinese breakfast combo, soybean milk and deep-fried dough sticks, or dòujiāng and yóutiáo in Mandarin, are widely available at the street stalls and breakfast restaurants.

Being made from soaked, ground, and boiled soybeans, soybean milk is a kind of hot beverage which is rich in protein, calcium, and antioxidants and with creamy texture and a nutty flavor. Deep-fried dough sticks are elongated pieces of dough that are deep-fried until golden. They have a crispy outside, hollow center and a chewy interior.

How to eat Soybean milk (Doujiang) and deep-fried dough sticks?

People commonly enjoy this breakfast by dipping the deep-fried dough sticks into the soy milk, which helps to evoke their satisfying crunch and versatility. You can also tear the deep-fried dough sticks into smaller pieces and add them to the soybean milk like cereal.

2. Steamed buns (Baozi)

Steamed buns or Baozi, are a kind of delicate dim sum with various fillings inside. They are made from fermented yeast dough that are filled with a variety vegetable or meat fillings, and are usually cooked in a bamboo steamer over boiling water. This breakfast can be customized to suit different tastes and preferences since you can choose either savory or sweet fillings, depending on your preference. Some of the common fillings you can choose include minced pork, cabbage, mushrooms, eggs, pickles, red bean paste, and lotus seed paste. You can either enjoy the steamed buns at the stalls and pair them with porridge or Tofu Pudding or carry it to home, your office or picnic.

Chinese food - Xiaolongbao
Xiaolongbao

Best places to enjoy the steamed buns:

  • Tianjin: Famous for its Goubuli Baozi which is named after a local century-old restaurant brand.
  • Xinjiang: Known for the baked steamed buns featuring crispy outside and soft inside.
  • Shanghai: With two famous steamed buns – Nanxiang xiaolongbao and shengjian mantou.
  • Guangdong: Guangdong people like to eat char siu bao, a kind of fluffy bun with sweet and savory barbecue pork fillings.
  • Beijing: Qingfeng baozi is a must-try when traveling in Beijing, with various fillings, such as pork, vegetables, or sweet bean paste.
  • Xian: Recommend to try the Guan Tang Baozi, with pork, beef, or vegetable and hot gravy filling.

3. Rice Porridge or Congee

Congee or rice porridge is called zhou in Chinese. In China, this kind of porridge is cooked with rice and water or broth, and is usually directly served in a bowl or be topped with different ingredients, such as eggs, pickles, or seafood, to add more nutrition and taste. Due to its smooth texture and mild flavor, congee is widely considered be goode for digestion and recovery, and is especially loved by kids, and elders. It is usually enjoyed with other popular breakfast foods like pancakes, deep-fried dough sticks, and steamed buns.

Chinese breakfast food - Congee
Congee

4. Wontons

Wontons are a type of dumpling which have a thinner wrapper and are usually filled with various ingredients such as pork, shrimp, chicken, or vegetables. They are usually served in soup. Originated from northern China, wontons are now popular across the country, with different regions featuring different flavors and cooking techniques. Some of the top types of wontons in China are:

  • Sichuan red oil wontons in Chengdu: These are spicy wontons that are boiled and then tossed in a sauce made of chili oil, vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, and sugar. They are usually garnished with sesame seeds and scallions.
  • Cantonese shrimp wontons:These are wontons filled with shrimp and minced pork, seasoned with salt, pepper, ginger, and scallions, and cooked in a clear broth.
  • Shanghai wontons:These are wontons filled with minced pork and bok choy, flavored with soy sauce, rice wine, and sugar, simmered in a chicken broth and topped with chopped cilantro when serving.
Chinese food - Wontons
Wontons

5. Rice Noodles

Being made of rice flour and water, rice noodles are more popular in south China where rice is the main crop. They usually come in different shapes, sizes, and textures, and can be cooked in various ways, including stir-frying, boiling, steaming, or deep-frying. When serving as a breakfast, it is usually prepared by boiling, and mixed with different sauces, meats, vegetables, and spices. Guilin rice noodles and Yunnan “crossing-the-bridge noodles” are two of the two most popular rice noodles in China.

Guilin rice noodles are usually served with a spicy broth, pickled vegetables, peanuts, and meat. The “crossing-the-bridge noodles” in Kunming, Yunnan are served with a hot pot of broth, and various ingredients such as sliced meat, eggs, vegetables, and tofu.

Chinese food - rice noodles
rice noodles

6. Pancake with eggs

Another easy to carry Chinese breakfast, pancake with eggs is a kind of very thin pancake that  topped with eggs and herbs. The pancake with eggs stalls are a common sight in various streets and alleys. Watching the process of making pancake with eggs is quite fascinating. You will see the stall keeper skillfully spread a batter consisting of flour, water, and salt on a hot griddle with spatula until achieving a golden, crispy perfection. After that, an egg will be cracked on to the pancake and be evenly distributed with the spatula. Following this, flip the pancake and continue cooking until the egg sets just right. Before serving, you can ask to sprinkle some chopped scallions and cilantro on top to enhance the flavor and texture.

Chinese breakfast food - Jian Bing Guo ZI
Jian Bing Guo ZI

7. Tofu Pudding

Tofu pudding, aka douhua or tofu brains in different regions across China, is a beloved snack that can be enjoyed either as a sweet dessert or a savery dish. It is actually a kind of fresh, uncurdled tofu with a smooth and delicate texture. For breakfast, people usually eat it along with fried dough sticks, steamed buns, or pancakes with eggs.

Depending on your preference, tofu pudding can be served with toppings of different flavors. For people who like sweet flavor, you can order the tofu pudding be topped with sugar to sweeten it. Also, you can order a savory flavor with soy sauce and add vinegar, sesame oil, or scallions for extra flavor.

Chinese breakfast food - douhua (Tofu Pudding)
Douhua Tofu Pudding

8. Tea Egg

Tea egg is another common street food that can be found in convenience stores, street stalls, restaurants, and tea houses. It’s a delicious and versatile way to enjoy eggs, with savory and aromatic flavor. To cook the tea eggs, the first step is to boil them until hard-cooked, then, gently crack the shell and simmer them  in a flavorful liquid infused with tea, soy sauce, and an assortment of spices like star anise, cinnamon, bay leaves, and Sichuan peppercorns. This infusion imparts a savory, aromatic, and slightly salty flavor, along with a distinctive brown hue to the eggs. The finished tea eggs have intricate patterns on the egg white as the shells crack during cooking, hence its another name marble eggs. They are a covenient snack that can be enjoyed warm or at room temperature. You can also add them to other dishes like noodles, rice, or salad.

Chinese breakfast food - Tea Eggs
Tea Eggs

9. Cheong Fan

Cheong Fan or rice noodle rolls is a kind of dim sam item featuring delicate and silky texture. It is readily available on the street stalls, restaurants across the country, with particular popularity in Guangdong and Hong Kong.

Steam the Cheong Fan
Steam the Cheong Fan

The stall owners of cheong fan usually prepare a smooth and thin batter using rice flour, water, and a bit of cornstarch beforehand. When a diner come to buy, they will pour the batter on to a flat surface and steam it until the batter solidifies into a thin, translucent sheet within few minutes. Diners can also ask to add a savory or sweet filling like various fillings, such as beef, pork, shrimp, eggs, or vegetables before the stall owners carefully rolling the sheet into a cylindrical shape. Before serving, the roll will be sliced into bite-sized pieces, and poured a flavorful sauce on to it. The sauce is commonly a mixture of soy sauce, sugar, water, and cornstarch. You can also add sesame oil, vinegar, chili oil, or peanut sauce for extra flavor.

Chinese food - Cheong Fan
The finished Cheong Fan

10. Siu Mai

The same with Cheong Fan, Siu Mai is also a traditional dim sum snack in Cantonese cuisine, dating back to the Song Dynasty. It is made with a thin, circular sheet of unleavened dough wrapping fillings like seasoned ground pork, shrimp, chicken, fish, vegetables, or mushrooms. It is like the dumplings, but with pleats around the edges and left open at the top. The shape resembles a gold ingot, thus considered as a symbol of wealth and prosperity. After the filling is wrapped, the siu mai will be then steamed in bamboo baskets until the wrapper becomes translucent and the filling is cooked through. You can enjoy them either by hand or by chopsticks.

Chinese food - Siu Mai
Siu Mai

 

FAQs about Chinese Breakfast Foods

What are some common ingredients in Chinese breakfast foods?

The most common ingredients in Chinese breakfast include rice, wheat flour, eggs, soybean products, various vegetables, and meat. Rice are usually used to cook porridge or made into rice noodles. Wheat flour is the main ingredients of steamed buns, mantou, dumplings, wontons, and pancakes. For eggs, people like to eat the ordinary scrambled or boiled eggs, or the tea eggs, or add the eggs to the pancake. The popular Chinese soybean foods include soy milk, fermented bean curd, and Tofu Pudding. Vegetables can be added to the pancake, or used as fillings of the steamed buns or dumplings. The different kind of meat can be stir-fried with vegetables or used as fillings.

What are some regional differences in Chinese breakfast foods?

Because of the significant climate variations and the diverse culture influences, the main grain crops and foods vary significantly from one place to another in China. For example, in northern China, wheat-based foods, such as mantou, steamed buns, dumplings, noodles, and pancakes are more popular since wheat is its staple crop. While in southern China, rice-based breakfast, such as congee, and rice noodles are more often eaten because rice is the staple crop in this region.

What are the common breakfast options in Chinese hotels?

Breakfasts in Chinese hotels are generally simple but diverse and delicious. The breakfast options may vary depending on the location and level of the hotel. Some of the common breakfast options in Chinese hotels include soybean milk and deep-fried dough sticks, fried noodles, ham, pork, pancakes, steamed stuffed buns, congee, boiled eggs, vegetables, wontons and dumplings (boiled, steamed, or fried), etc.

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