China 101- The Most Important Meal of the Day

Location: Jian’ou, Fujian Province, China

I can say with much sincerity that one of the things we miss the most about China is the food and the food culture. Especially breakfast, which I think most Chinese people would agree is the most important meal of the day. One of the most common responses I get to photos from our journey is: “That’s what you guys ate for breakfast!?”

In Jian’ou, breakfast is the time the city hummed with life. Everyone would venture out to one of the hundreds of local breakfast shops to start their day off right (and maybe catch up on a little gossip and get a glimpse of the resident foreigners). More people would routinely eat out for breakfast than lunch or dinner combined. And seriously, what do Chinese people eat for breakfast? If you’re coming to China expecting a piece of toast, bacon, oatmeal, pancakes, or some cereal in the morning you’re going to be sorely disappointed.

Some things to note about a typical Chinese morning. Breakfast is rarely prepared at home; breakfast is never skipped; people don’t read the newspaper over breakfast, people rarely drink hot tea or coffee- but rather a cup of hot soy milk (jiang ) instead; breakfast is served up hot, hearty, and quick; breakfast is usually eaten on the street and served from about 5am-11am. If you take your breakfast on-the-go for work, each item is given in individually wrapped plastic bags (soy milk + straw included).

It was a hard adjustment (oh, the coffee!). However, by the end of our year in China, the daily breakfast routine was one of our favorite aspects of life. After being home for nearly 9 months now, here are a few choice breakfast options that we’ve been craving:

Congee: Rice porridge. Similar to oatmeal, it can be sweet or savory, and comes with a number of toppings which vary by region. They include pickled vegetables, aduki beans, peanuts, tofu, and meat, and eggs. In particular, “century eggs” are a popular choice for congee. These are chicken, quail, or duck eggs that have been preserved in alkaline so that the yolks are dark green and creamy.

Noodles: Especially hand-stretched noodles or noodle soup with your choice of pickled vegetable topping.

Tea Eggs: Eggs hard boiled in flavored tea. Salty, tangy, goodness.

Dumplings: So many flavors and varieties I could not possibly list them all.

Zongzi (粽子): Dumplings made of sweet sticky rice, wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed. They frequently have red or green bean pastes as fillings. Zongzi are most commonly eaten during the Dragon Boat festival in June, as they are part of the legend surrounding the holiday.

Baozi (堡子): These steamed, filled buns can be eaten at any meal, but they are especially popular at breakfast. Baozi can be filled with ground pork, vegetables such as spinach or eggplant, eggs, or bean paste; indeed, there is an almost endless variety, both savory and sweet. They are a popular street food, and we would often pick them up for lunch during our midday break.

You Tiao (油条): My personal favorite! Hand stretched long, oily breads that are typically dipped in the hot soy milk or noodle soup.

This video is something I’ve been sitting on for quite some time. It represents a walk to our favorite breakfast place in China, just down the street from our apartment. Take a look and get a taste of what we did almost every day!

As usual, it’s available in higher quality on Vimeo: https://vimeo.com/100636182

Though we’ve left China, I still have some footage that I’m assembling into a short film/documentary of sorts. The things that don’t make it into that, however, will be made will be made into the standalone shorts that our blog readers love so dearly.

As for other news, V got into graduate school at University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, so we will be moving down South in August. Another new adventure!

We would love to hear what’s new with all of you and if you have any crazy China breakfast stories to share,

<3, K(&V)

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