Every time someone asks me what Chinese eat on a regular basis I simply answer:
The Chinese eat everything with four legs except tables, and everything that flies except airplanes.
They eat dog’s meat, chicken’a feet, pig’s nose, bees, cockroaches and more (you probably don’t want to know).
Typical Chinese Breakfast
But let’s focus on Chinese breakfast today.
If you come to China and hope to get a nice sandwich, a bowl of cereal, a chocolate pancake or a piece toast for your breakfast, you will either go hungry and angry or you try one of Chinese morning treats, which differ a lot from the Western food.
So what do Chinese people eat for breakfast?
For example, Chinese people eat dumplings for breakfast. What!? Dumplings for breakfast? Are you kidding? Ok, if you don’t like them you can have a beef noodle soup. What!? A soup for breakfast!? Is it a kind of joke?
Welcome to China!
Let’s face it, these eggs don’t look very appealing to us…
Although Chinese dishes are incredibly popular around the world, traditional Chinese breakfast rituals and treats are relatively unknown. Most people wouldn’t be probably able to name 3 basic Chinese meals served in the morning. So here I come to help you out!
First of all, it must be pointed out that there is a completely different approach to breakfast in China than in Europe:
- Chinese don’t eat scrambled eggs, bread or even cereal with milk in the morning.
- They don’t read the newspaper with a breakfast.
- They rarely cook it at home.
- Breakfast must be always hot and quick to prepare, ready to grab on the run.
- They don’t drink tea or coffee in the morning as people think.
- They never skip breakfast.
- Prefer to eat their breakfast in the street, buy it at food vendors or take the food away and have it at work.
- Go either for heavy and stodgy meals such as dumplings or sweet and savory items such as doughnuts or buns.
- Always have a cup of soy milk with their meals.
- Often eat in rush loudly smacking (well, they always smack).
When I first came to China my stomach was very upset. However, I quickly got used to the new eating habits and after a few weeks I was craving more and more dumplings each morning on top of noodle beef soups, deeply fried doughnuts and Chinese buns (until I put on weight, looked fat and couldn’t look in the mirror :P).
The street vendors can be found nearly everywhere. There is a restaurant next to a restaurant, next to another restaurant close to a restaurant in front of a restaurant. Yes, that means you will always find a place to have your breakfast at. The food vendors are open from 5 am and the breakfast is served till 11ish.
So let’s go through a list of Chinese breakfast foods.
Chinese Breakfast Menu
1. A plate of Baozi (dumplings)
Chinese dumplings (baozi) go with various fillings. They are steamed or fried. They are usually stuffed with pork, beef and vegetables, and in addition provides a variety of Asian sauces such as soy-based sauce, chili, vinegar and sesame oil.
You can find them at every food vendor. They usually have the same size, but the taste is different. Some of them are extremely oily and don’t look very appealing. Make sure they are hot when served -cold aren’t as tasty.
You should not pay more than RMB0,5 – RMB1 ($0.8 – $0.16) for one big Baozi and you can feel stuffed after having 1-2 (girls) and 3-4 (guys).
2. A plate of Jiaozi
Jiaozi are also Chinese dumplings crescent-shaped filled with minced stuffing and steamed, boiled or fried. Fried Jiaozi taste the best in my opinion.
They are incredibly soft and watery and their taste is so much different from baozi. Jiaozi are also served with spicy or sweet chili sauce for lunch and dinner.
A plate of Jiaozi (6-8) shouldn’t cost more than RMB3 (<$0.5).
3. A bow of rice porridge (congee) or bean juice
Some Chinese love to have a warm rice porridge for breakfast. It’s very thick and creamy. They have it with some hot bean juice.
A bowl of porridge costs around RMB2-3 and a cup of bean juice is not more than RMB2.
4. A bowl of noodle soup with a meat of your choice and veggies
It takes a few seconds to prepare it. Among Chinese the most popular is a beef noodle soup made of stewed or red braised beef, beef broth, vegetables and Chinese noodles perfectly spiced.
You will be served a huge bowl of it for only RMB 5-8 ($ 1 – 1.25).
5. You tiao
You tiao (oil strip) are deep fried bread sticks made of dough and served hot as an accompaniment for rice congee or soy milk. Warning – they are super oily!
1 You tiao usually costs RMB1 ($0.16) and 2 will fill you up.
6. Egg pancakes (Jian bing)
They are usually served with chives and some of them might be extra spiced. They are light and very filling, but certainly don’t taste like their Western cousins.
One costs around RMB3 ($0.5).
If you are not a big fan of egg pancakes you can swap it for a fried croquette filled with meat and veggies (make sure it’s well done both sides).
They are more expensive than egg pancakes (RMB5 each/ $0.8) but more filling as well.
7. Sweet potatoes
It might be so odd to have potatoes for breakfast, but Chinese style sweet potatoes are very nutritious and yummy. They are baked in a huge barrel in the street. They are very soft and dry so make sure you get them with soy milk or tea.
Price: RMB1 ($0.16) for a medium size potato or RMB4 for 500g.
8. Fermented tofu.
That is a great alternative for vegetarians. Tofu is very soft and light topped with sweet chili or spicy sauce. You can find some beans in it as well.
A bowl of tofu costs RMB3 ($0.5).
9. Sticky rice wrapped in a leaf
There are two types of sticky rice in China. One filled with beans, veggies and some salty nuts, the other one is stuffed with bananas and they taste very sweet. They are both incredibly delicious and filling. Warning: the leaf is a wrapping only – inedible :-).
Sticky rice wrapped in a leaf usually costs RMB2,5/$0.40.
10. Toppings: salty peanuts, spicy pickled radishes, pickled mustard
Surprise, Chinese DON”T have only RICE for their breakfast! :-)
I am personally a big fan of steamed Baozi and bean juice while Cez can’t get enough of fried Jiaozi and You tiao. We rarely have noodles or tofu and have been preparing our own food – ham and salad baguettes, oatmeal with fruits and nuts or scrambled eggs.
As you can probably see, most of those breakfast treats are deep fried. So if your slimming genes are not working in your favor, you might decide to skip some Breakfast meals not pile on pounds :). But for now, let us enjoy this food with no guilt :).
Are you surprised with the breakfast food options in China? What was/would be your favorite Chinese morning treat?