What the Heck are Chinese Eating for Breakfast? (Food Options and Prices)

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.

little chicken fried in China
Poor chicks!
Pig's noses in china
Enjoy your meal :)

They eat dog’s meat, chicken’a feet, pig’s nose, bees, cockroaches and more (you probably don’t want to know).

Chinese New Year's food - spicy chicken's legs, mushrooms, all edible parts of pig and chicken with fried veggies
Chinese New Year’s food – spicy chicken’s legs, mushrooms, all edible parts of pig and chicken with fried veggies

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?

A girl is holding a sticky rice leaf and jiaozi in china

Welcome to China!

Boiled eggs in the street, China
You can get some boiled eggs on the run every morning

Let’s face it, these eggs don’t look very appealing to us…

Chinese eggs dipped in tea

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.
Local food vendors where you can buy your breakfast at in China
Local food vendors where you can buy your breakfast in China

Instead, they:

  • 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).
Here you can buy some bean juice in the morning
Here you can buy some bean juice in the morning

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 called Baozi
Baozi

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.

Baozi inside
This is what you can find inside – oily mince and chives

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.

A plate of Baozi
A plate of Baozi

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

A plate of Jiaozi
A plate of Jiaozi
Fried Jiaozi with some spicy chili oil sauce, yummy!
Fried Jiaozi with some spicy chili oil sauce, yummy!

Jiaozi are also Chinese dumplings crescent-shaped filled with minced stuffing and steamed, boiled or fried. Fried Jiaozi taste the best in my opinion.

Fried Jiaozi
Fried Jiaozi

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.

Bean juices ready to grab
Bean juices ready to grab

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

Morning noodle soup in China
Morning noodle soup
Take away Beijing noodles with salty peanuts
Take away Beijing noodles with salty peanuts

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).

One of my breakfast treats in Huayuan, Hunan province - beef noodle soup with parsley
One of my breakfast treats in Huayuan, Hunan province – beef noodle soup with parsley

5. You tiao

Morning You tiao
Morning 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!

You tiao in China in the street
You tiao ready to eat

1 You tiao usually costs RMB1 ($0.16) and 2 will fill you up.

6. Egg pancakes (Jian bing)

Chinese egg pancakes
Chinese egg pancakes

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.

Chinese croquettes
Chinese croquettes

7. Sweet potatoes

Sweet potatoes
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.

Sweet chili tofu
Sweet chili 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

Sticky rice filled with beans and nuts
Sticky rice filled with beans and nuts

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 :-).

A girl is eating jiaozi and smelling sticky rice
Sticky rice has a very delicate and aromatic smell

Sticky rice wrapped in a leaf usually costs RMB2,5/$0.40.

10. Toppings: salty peanuts, spicy pickled radishes, pickled mustard

Chinese toppings salty peanuts, spicy pickled radishes, pickled mustard.

 Surprise, Chinese DON”T have only RICE for their breakfast! :-)

A Chinese family on a bike holding their breakfast
That’s something we see every morning – kids going to school with their breakfast in hands

Our favorites 

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.

Cez and his Jiaozi
Cez and his Jiaozi

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?

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Agness Walewinder
Agness Walewinder
Travel freak, vagabond, photography passionate, blogger, life enthusiast, backpacker, adventure hunter and endless energy couchsurfer living by the rule "Pack lite, travel far and live long!"
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