Breakfast is often labeled as the most important meal of the day. For most of us, breakfast is what’s going to fuel us through our morning and possibly our afternoon. When Americans think of breakfast, foods like eggs, muffins, sausage, cereal, and pancakes come to mind. Meanwhile, Chinese breakfast foods tend to land on the savory side with just as much variety as their Western counterparts. If you want to add variety to your breakfast routine, here are a few Chinese breakfast foods to consider.
Breakfast in Context
While Americans have many staple breakfast foods, their uses vary greatly, and it’s no different in China. Depending on personal preference, the breakfast meal can be small, large, or substituted with a beverage- though tea tends to be more popular than coffee with the Chinese.
Need for Balance: Many people in China prefer warmer foods on cold mornings because of the balance of yin and yang. The idea is to balance the cold weather with warmer foods. This is quite different from the American habit of opting for iced coffee even during the coldest days.
Daily Fit: Breakfast Food in China is often obtained from street vendors or at outdoor markets, which sell a variety of dishes throughout the day and night. Many Chinese people grab breakfast from street vendors and eat breakfast on the go. While, in theory, breakfast is a sit-down meal in the U.S., most modern working Americans end up eating on the go as well.
Avoiding Stereotype: While there are several popular Chinese food dishes, not everything mentioned below is going to be considered part of a traditional Asian Breakfast. If you’re traveling within China, it’s always a good idea to ask the locals about popular foods. Not only will the locals tell you about popular dishes, but they often know the best places to eat!
A Multilingual Country: China is home to a variety of local and regional dialects with Mandarin and Cantonese being among the most popular. Depending on where you go, certain foods may have different names and may vary according to regional preference.
Why Add Chinese Breakfast: There are plenty of reasons to want to add different breakfast foods to your daily routine. Chinese breakfast foods are delicious, filling, and often convenient to eat while you’re traveling to work or school. If you are craving a traditional Chinese breakfast but don’t happen to live down the street from a Chinese street vendor, these foods are also very easy to make at home!
Congee (aka Jook) and Youtiao
Congee, or jook in Cantonese, is essentially warm, watery rice that looks a lot like porridge. The congee can be flavored to be either sweet or savory, depending on your preference. The congee can contain a wide variety of additives, including meat, such as chicken and various vegetables, including mushrooms. The congee almost always comes with twisted strips of deep-fried dough known as youtiao in Chinese. These dough strips resemble crullers and can be dipped into the congee for maximum savory enjoyment.
Crullers and Soy Milk
If you want something lighter than congee, but don’t want to miss out on warm fried dough, you can opt for youtiao and soy milk instead. This combination is particularly popular among food stands in northern China and can result in either a meal that’s either sweet or salty, depending on your preference.
Not a fan of soy milk? Consider dipping sweetened or plain youtiao into your morning shake or pair it with your usual breakfast for extra savory goodness.
Steamed Buns and Dumplings
Steamed buns are a delicious traditional Chinese food staple for a variety of reasons. Not only are they versatile, but they’re also portable and easy to eat with chopsticks or even your hands- though the latter might get messy if you’re using sauces and other spices to flavor your foods.
Stuffed buns are called baozi, while plain white flour dumplings are referred to as mantou. You can also choose between steamed and fried dumplings. While buns and dumplings are eaten for breakfast, they can also be eaten at any time of the day, making these the best Chinese food dishes.
Hot Dry Noodles
While noodles don’t seem like a popular breakfast food in the U.S., they are a breakfast staple in China. Dry or broth free noodles are often topped with garlic, sesame oil, pickled vegetables, and chili sauce. Originally from the Wuhan province, hot, dry noodles have become a favorite throughout many parts of China.
If you’re not a fan of hot, dry noodles, there are plenty of other noodle-based dishes available, including mala or hot and numbing noodles.
While wonton soup is a popular appetizer for Americans, it can be eaten for breakfast in China. If your mornings are cold and you need something to warm you up while also giving you fuel for the day, wonton soup is a great option- especially on cold mornings when you need a boost of warmth and energy.
These are delicious Chinese breakfast crepes that seriously compete with most breakfast sandwiches. Traditionally these stuffed crepes come with cilantro, soybean paste, chili sauce, egg, and scallions. If you’re getting these off the street, they may come with ham and cheese instead. Jianbing is delicious, easy to make, and conveniently portable.
If you are looking to add more variety to your breakfast, jianbing is a great option. You can make the traditional jianbing with the above ingredients or get creative by adding bacon, ham, and cheese or even mushrooms.