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Beijing Breakfast

Chinese Food: Beijing Breakfast - Baozi 'Steamed Stuffed Buns'
What do Chinese people eat for breakfast?

Breakfast is not a terribly important meal in China. Chinese people start the day early, but that means breakfast is often just a question of wolfing down whatever’s to hand in order to fill the belly until lunchtime.

That said, there are plenty of culinary adventures available at the breakfast table, and if you’re staying in three star hotel or better, the buffet breakfast will be a fantastic spread with all the typical Chinese breakfast staples which could keep you going until the evening.

Cornflakes and milk have made inroads, but are still mostly confined to the breakfast tables of the rich and trendy. A very common breakfast for most Chinese is the leftovers from the previous day’s evening meal.

A typical Chinese breakfast is a bowl of congee (zhōu – 粥), a rice porridge brightened up with the addition of pickles, peanuts or meat. Beijingers also love yóutiáo (油条), deep fried sticks of dough to dip in huge bowls of steaming soya milk (dòujiāng – 豆浆). There are also puffy sheets of steamed bread, also to be dipped in soya milk. Any of these breakfasts could be accompanied by a couple of boiled eggs.

A bigger breakfast could include a range of cold dishes, especially nuts and greens and a variety of pickles, the most common of which is zhàcài (榨菜) which is made from the pickled stem of a type of mustard.

Your hotel breakfast buffet might also include fried eggs (good with soy!) all sorts of rice variants including fried rice and rice with beans, some basic chow mein, millet, and a few hot dishes like stir-fried pork or pak choi.

For the adventurous one thing not to be missed (and also not to be mistaken for anything else) is dòufu rǔ / xiándòufu (豆腐乳 / 咸豆腐), a pickled, fermented tofu. It looks like tofu, but ranges from off-white to a deep red in colour. The taste is far too strong and salty to eat it alone, but it goes down very well if you dilute a tiny scraping with a chopstick’s worth of plain rice.

A breakfast buffet will hopefully also have a selection of sweets – most likely just bāozi (steamed stuffed buns) filled with sweet red bean paste, but occasionally also sweet spring rolls, or passable sponge cake.

There’ll also likely be a ‘Western section’ which might include toast, sausages, scrambled egg and even something vaguely resembling bacon if you’re lucky, but don’t pin your hopes on a decent English breakfast.

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