When pondering the most delightful, delicious cuisines from around the world, one may consider a myriad of options. French cuisine is ostensibly relished by people from around the world. Japanese cuisine is held in high regard due to its experiential style. However, one cuisine that nearly everyone in the world happens to adore is Chinese.
Chinese cuisine is quite varied, and there are a number of traditional meals that are heralded within Chinese culture and enjoyed by many cultures. There is one meal in particular that experiences quite the varied selection, breakfast. Let’s take a look at 30 of the most delectable Chinese breakfasts that you absolutely need to try right now.
One of the most overwhelmingly adored breakfast meals around the world is the pancake. The French prefer their pancakes to be thinner and called crepes whereas the Canadians and Americans prefer their pancakes to be thick, fluffy, full of buttermilk, and drenched in maple syrup.
Chinese cuisine offers a different take on the pancake, adding a bit of savory to the mix with their scallion pancakes. These pancakes actually bear more resemblance to a quiche, as they are cut into triangles and have layered, flaky crust as opposed to the fluffy, buttermilk bread of the North American pancake.
These scallion pancakes achieve this flaky texture by the method in which they are prepared. Scallion pancakes are brushed with sesame oil and sprinkled with scallion before being rolled up into a sausage, then returned to its original flat state.
As Americans have their coffee and the British have their tea, the morning beverage of choice in China tends to be fresh soymilk. Soymilk is one of the more flexible beverages, particularly in Chinese culture. You can drink it cold in a glass or warm it up and slurp it in a bowl with the help of a big spoon.
Additionally, soymilk is often incorporated into other traditional Chinese breakfast meals which will be detailed later in this article. Whether or not soymilk is being had on its own or as a part of a greater meal, nobody can deny the prevalence soymilk has in Chinese cuisine and the decadence soymilk has in our bellies.
Morning Tea (Yum Cha)
Although soymilk is certainly a prevalent breakfast drink in Chinese culture, there is perhaps no more sacred drink in Chinese culture than yum cha, or morning tea. Yum cha, which literally translates to drink tea, is as simple as this beckoning phrase. Yum cha typically consists of Jasmine green tea, although in Hong Kong you will be served Puerh black tea.
Yum cha is also much more than just tea. It involves the act of sitting down and eating breakfast with family and friends. It is often used to teach and reiterate the importance of table manners and to rejoice on being close to friends and family. This is what makes yum cha one of the most important of all traditional Chinese breakfasts.
Rice Porridge (Congee)
The best breakfast meals provide a sense of comfort in addition to their deliciousness. This is why sweet, warm, filling meals such as pancakes, waffles, and French toast have become staples of North American breakfast cuisine. In China, rice porridge, or congee, is the simple comfort food that people consume in droves during breakfast time.
Rice porridge is incredibly simple to make. It uses day-old rice, water, and can occasionally incorporate vegetables and meats, or other vegan-friendly proteins. This simplicity provides an aura of nostalgic comfort, similar to classic American breakfast foods like pancakes and French toast.
Crullers (You Tiao)
A thoroughly enjoyed breakfast food in a plethora of cultures is the iconic doughnut. One of the most famed variations of the doughnut is the cruller, whose twisted, ridged appearance bears resemblance to a mouth-watering rope or torpedo.
In China, crullers are immensely popular, although they are slightly different from crullers from other places in the world like France, Canada, and the US. Chinese crullers, you tiao, are noticeably less sweet than other crullers. Also, they are shaped in a straight line rather than a twisted circle. This makes them perfect for dunking, which they commonly are in warm soymilk.
Yet another way to incorporate soymilk into a traditional Chinese breakfast meal, this is essentially the Chinese equivalent of coffee and doughnuts in North America.
One of the most iconic Chinese foods is the baked bun. Often served during dim sum, which also includes dumplings and other Chinese delicacies, the baked bun offers that warm, comforting feeling that other excellent breakfast foods similarly possess.
There are many different fillings that can be found inside of a baked bun. However, Chinese breakfasts often incorporate savory tastes into their breakfast meals. Thus, the pork bun is a surprisingly popular traditional Chinese breakfast meal.
Turnip Cake (Luo Buo Gao)
Similar to the Scallion pancake, this traditional Chinese breakfast meal adds a savory twist to a generally saccharine food, the cake. It is frequently served during dim sum meals and is actually more of a snack food than a dessert.
The turnip cake is actually made from grated radish, which is cooked and then mixed with rice flour and water to create turnip cake. Some traditional turnip cakes also include Chinese bacon, mushrooms, sausage, and even shrimp. Thus, this cake ends up being quite the savory meal.
Sesame Balls (Jin Dui)
One of the most beloved sweet snacks in Chinese culture is Jin dui, or the sesame ball. Although these balls are not strictly held to breakfast time, they are commonly consumed during the morning hours as they are sweet, dough-y, and quick to eat.
These treats can also be rather flexible, containing several different fillings depending on the locale or the vendor. However, the two most popular fillings for Jin dui, or sesame balls, are lotus paste and sweet bean paste. Although this is not the most filling meal, it is certainly a beloved, and delicious, traditional Chinese breakfast food, akin to the madeleine.
Egg-Filled Breakfast Crepe (Jianbing)
Just as the Chinese have their variation of the pancake, there is also a Chinese variation of the crepe. This egg-filled breakfast crepe is commonly referred to as Jian bing and, like the scallion pancake, it offers a savory take on the breakfast food.
This crepe is based in flour and typically consists of toppings such as egg, cilantro, scallions, chili sauce, and sweet soybean paste. These crepes are also commonly served as street food, where they are far less traditional and more western. The street versions of these crepes tend to feature classic western crepe toppings, such as ham and cheese.
One thing that is endemic in many traditional Chinese breakfast foods is their element of versatility. There are plenty of different methods for preparing and consuming traditional Chinese breakfast foods such as fresh soymilk, sesame balls, and Jian bing. This is also the case with the popular and traditional Chinese breakfast food known as Zongzi.
Zongzi is a bundle sticky rice which is lovingly wrapped in a leaf. There are various types of Zangzi, which depend on the region of China you are having your Zongzi. There is a vast range of fillings which can be used for Zangzi, including walnuts, dates, and bean paste for sweet Zangzi and ham, egg, and chicken for savory Zangzi.
Additionally, this versatile Chinese breakfast food can also vary in regard to its shape and size. Ultimately, this is a popular, versatile, and mouth-watering traditional Chinese breakfast food.
Adding to the list of versatile Chinese breakfast meals are the perpetually popular rice noodles. Rice noodles are also part of the comfort family as they offer a simplicity and warmth that may present one with feelings of nostalgia or, at the very least, satiation.
Rice noodles are typically boiled and can be eaten at any time but are particularly popular during breakfast due to their nurturing and enlivening qualities. Rice noodles are also fairly versatile, as an array of potential ingredients can be added to a bowl of rice noodles. These ingredients include soybeans, fried peanuts, sliced meat, scallions, or even pickled mustard.
Although people often group together traditional meals within a nation to the entire nation and its inhabitants, many traditional meals actually pertain to specific regions within the larger nation. In America, this is apparent when looking at meals like gumbo in New Orleans or barbecue in Tennessee.
In China, there are plenty of meals that are considered traditional Chinese breakfast meals but actually pertain more to specific regions. One example of this is tofu pudding, which is a meal commonly enjoyed by the people of southern China. Tofu pudding generally consists of tofu and water, with garnishes like ginger and brown sugar syrup.
Another excellent example of a traditional Chinese breakfast dish that is both versatile and soul-enriching is the famed wonton. Wontons are a staple of Chinese cuisine and, although may be deemed too savory in western cultures, are the perfect dish for Chinese breakfasts.
Wontons can be prepared and consumed in several ways, whether they be boiled in broth, steamed in a bamboo steamer, or even fried in a wok. Wontons can also be filled with a myriad of ingredients, including pork, fish, shrimp, mushrooms, spinach, and various other proteins and vegetables.
Speaking of vegetables, there are plenty of vegetable dishes that can be considered traditional Chinese breakfast foods. One of the most popular of these dishes is a vegetarian’s take on a classic Chinese delicacy, the baked bun. Baked buns are a delicious treat regardless of what filling is stuffed inside.
However, vegetable buns give baked buns a unique flavor, juxtaposing the sweet warmth of the bun with the slightly bitter taste of vegetables. This distinct combination of tastes makes the vegetable bun a standout amongst the extensive list of traditional Chinese breakfast foods.
Fried Radish Pudding
While vegetables are certainly an important facet of a human’s daily nutritional intake, many cultures fail to include vegetables during the most important meal of the day. Vegetables are not a common inclusion in many western breakfasts. However, in China, there are plenty of traditional breakfast dishes with vegetables included to go around.
One of these dishes is the delicious and unique fried radish pudding. Many Chinese breakfast dishes include the radish, which may be considered bizarre in other cultures. However, after trying a spoonful of fried radish pudding, you may wonder why you have not been incorporating more root vegetables into your breakfast meals.
Similar to another noodle-centric dish listed earlier in this article, wheat noodles are a warm and enlivening dish to enjoy during breakfast time. Although wheat noodles may not have the same pristine look as rice noodles, there is an additional flavor to wheat noodles that makes them a popular choice among many living in China.
Wheat noodles can be eaten at any time but are particularly popular during breakfast due to their nurturing and enlivening qualities. Wheat noodles are also fairly versatile, as an array of potential ingredients can be added to a bowl of wheat noodles. These ingredients include soybeans, fried peanuts, sliced meat, scallions, or even pickled mustard.
Pancakes with Eggs
There are many examples of traditional Chinese breakfast foods that resemble western breakfast foods. There is the scallion pancake, which may not look like a pancake but certainly borrows the name. There is also the egg-filled breakfast crepe, which bears resemblance to those you may find in Paris.
However, it is important to remember that correlation does not equal causation in this regard. Chinese food can be inspired by other cuisines, but western cuisines were not the reason for scallion pancakes. Another example of a traditional Chinese breakfast food is a pancake with egg.
Although this food is titled in such a way, there are plenty more supplementing ingredients to this dish. These ingredients include fried eggs, mustard pickles, coriander, and spicy sauce.
Flour Tea, or Millet Porridge with Sesame Paste (Miancha)
As we have seen with some of the pancake dishes earlier in this article, names can often be misleading. This is the case with another traditional Chinese breakfast food, flour tea. Although flour tea does contain flour, it is not made out of tea and is generally unrelated to tea.
Flour tea does contain millet and rice flour, and the dish is generally topped with either sesame paste or brown sugar syrup. Thus, this dish is incredibly thick and indelibly soul enriching. This is one of the most western-breakfast style traditional Chinese breakfast dishes as it focuses more on the sweet and the warmth and less on savory.
Chinese tradition states that flour tea should be thick enough for a chopstick to stand up when submerged within the dish. Flour tea is also referred to as millet porridge with sesame paste or miancha.
Although tea itself is an incredibly popular breakfast drink around the world, including China, there is a traditional Chinese breakfast dish that uses the drink to add an extra flair to one of the most common breakfast foods of all time, eggs.
To make tea eggs, you simply hard-boil your eggs in tea water. The tea water will seep into the egg, giving the whites and the yolk an additional flavor. Many add more spices to the tea water, giving the egg even more flavor and creating a wonderful aroma around the dish. These spices include star anise, cinnamon, fennel seeds, and Sichuan peppercorns.
In addition to this aroma and flavor, the tea leaves in your boiling water will give your eggs a dark brown marbling, particularly in cracks along the egg’s shell.
Red Bean Steamed Dumpling (Doushabao)
There are few Chinese dishes more beloved around the world than the red bean steamed dumpling. The red bean steamed dumpling, or doushabao, is one of the many buns on this list, although doushabao comes with a twist, it is not baked but rather steamed instead.
This gives the bun a softer, fluffier consistency which is more reminiscent of classic North American desserts. Some may consider the red bean bun a dessert rather than a breakfast food.
However, most true breakfast enthusiasts would consider this a mark that red bean steamed dumplings are in fact, perfectly suited for breakfast time eating.
Although many of the breakfast dishes previously listed in this article have been hearty and soul warming, there has not been a single soup mentioned on this list. This is surprising as Hulatang, a traditional Chinese soup originating in the Henan region, is one of the most popular breakfast dishes in China.
Although Hulatang is enjoyed by all in China, the dish is commonly associated with northern China, where it is most popular. Hulatang ‘s ingredients include ginger, vinegar, flour, vegetables, beef, and vermicelli noodles. The soup is also known for its stickiness, viscosity, and spiciness, which make it the perfect soul warming dish.
Black Sesame Soup
Another soup that is popular during breakfast time is the traditional Chinese soup known as black sesame soup. Although black sesame soup is technically a soup, it could not be more different than Hulatang. While hulatang is spicy and savory, black sesame soup is mild and incredibly sweet.
Hulatang bears a reddish hue whereas black sesame soup is jet black. Black sesame soup is more popular in southern China and Hong Kong whereas Hulatang is most popular in the north.
Although black sesame soup is very sweet, it actually has plenty of health benefits associated with it. This is due to its abundance in nutrients, such as vitamin B, calcium, manganese, magnesium, and iron.
One of the most versatile breakfast foods that is traditionally consumed in China is the frequently heralded taro root. Taro is another naturally sweet snack that is often consumed for dessert, but there are certainly many people who consume the root, or dishes including the root, for breakfast.
There are various ways to prepare and consume taro root. Some incorporate taro root into dessert and breakfast dumplings. Others may make taro soup or incorporate taro root into a beverage. Taro-flavored beverages have become quite popular in recent times due to their sweetness and the vibrant purple color taro creates.
There are plenty of traditional Chinese breakfast dishes that appear similar to popular western dishes. One of these is the oyster omelet, as omelets are fairly popular as breakfast foods in many western cultures. However, this omelet comes with a unique twist, the oysters.
There are few omelet dishes that incorporate seafood, but Chinese cuisine thrives off of unique combinations. The oyster omelet offers a mouth-watering clash of absorbent, oceanic oysters and thick, flavorful eggs. Many other ingredients are frequently included in this dish potato starch and spicy tomato sauce.
While many bun dishes have been listed throughout this article, none of these bun dishes are quite like the pineapple bun. While most of the buns listed above are based in rice, the pineapple bun is based in flour. This bun is commonly consumed as a dessert or as a snack, but it can also be consumed during breakfast time.
The delicious treat has several distinct traits. Notably, it is crispy and sugary on the outside but warm and soft on the inside. There is also a checkerboard pattern on the outside layer of the pastry which bears resemblance to the fruit it is named after. This is why this bun is called the pineapple bun as the bun actually does not contain any pineapple.
On the subject of bread, one of the most prevalent inclusions in breakfast cuisine around the world is some form of bread. Whether your preference be white, wheat, sourdough, or even rye, you can generally find a delicious piece of toast to go along with your morning coffee or tea wherever you are.
This is certainly the case in China, where milk bread is an exceptionally popular breakfast time food. Milk bread is extremely light and fluffy, but also sweet. It gives off the impression of cake, without feeling as unhealthy or as overwhelmingly rich.
Bean Curd Jelly
Sometimes referred to as douhua, or tofu pudding, this traditional Chinese breakfast dish will remind many who see it for the first time as ice cream. However, unless you eat this dish in southern China, you will be shocked to find that this dish is rather savory and can even be spicy.
This dish is made from very soft tofu and its appearance has led many to colloquially refer to is as “tofu brains”. Ultimately, this dish is a rather interesting example of how cuisine can differ within a nation rather than solely between nations.
The simplest of all traditional Chinese breakfast dishes is also one of the most important. Rice is often overlooked in the grand scheme of Chinese, and most other Asian, cuisine. However, rice is the pillar of many of the cuisines in Asia, including China.
A steaming bowl of rice is the perfect accompaniment to any savory breakfast dish. Also, there is perhaps no dish more soul warming and nostalgic than rice. People of all ages, all creeds, and all nationalities love rice. It is the ultimate bonding food, which makes it a crucial dish to consider when looking at traditional Chinese breakfast foods.
Fried Mantou with Milk
As mentioned earlier in this article, milk can be the perfect pairing to a warm, bready breakfast dish. In the earlier mentions, soy milk was receiving most of the praise. However, condensed milk is also frequently used in Chinese dishes, particularly as a dipping recipient for fried mantou, a popular Chinese biscuit.
There are two types of fried mantou, silver and golden. These types are distinguished by the color of each mantou. One thing that ties them both together is that they are both delicious.
Finally, Fan Tuan is a rice dish with origins in eastern China. It incorporates all of the best facets of Chinese breakfast cuisine. There is fried dough, which is wrapped around a handful of glutinous rice. Then, this dish is usually paired with a glass of soymilk or condensed milk. There may also be other ingredients incorporated into Fan Tuan.
These ingredients include pickled mustard greens and salted radishes, both staples of Chinese cuisine. Ultimately, this dish may simply look like a rice ball, but there is much more to Fan Tuan than just a rice ball.
While there are certainly more Chinese breakfast dishes worth trying out, these breakfast dishes all fall under the categorization of traditional and are generally considered the best Chinese breakfast foods in all the land. With so much land and so much food to explore in China, there are bound to be immense differences in both as you travel from region to region.
Remember that as you travel within a country, you could very well be traveling between worlds.