By Xiaochen

Photograph of Chinese breakfast

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Chinese people basically share the same value for eating, which is revealed in an old and popular saying: “having something good for breakfast, a big meal for lunch and less for supper”. Even though breakfast is regarded as the most important meal of the day, with the accelerating pace of modern life, people tend to have faster and smaller breakfast and lunch in contrast to a big dinner.

China’s food and eating culture is a significant and integral part in the whole history of Chinese culture, reflecting people’s specific lifestyle and values in different regions and times. Only for breakfast, you may have hundreds of choices depending on where you go to have this meal. So, I can only write about some typical food I usually have for breakfast in my hometown, a city in China’s east coastal Shandong province, as other cities have something unique to themselves.

A complete breakfast in my hometown usually contains eggs, staple food (something starch) and soups. For eggs, we often have tea eggs (eggs boiled in tea), plain boiled eggs or fried eggs. Then, multiple choices for staple food, like deep fried dough sticks or cake (youtiao or youbing), steamed (stuffed) bun (baozi or huajuan), pan-fried dumplings/buns (jianbao), Chinese meat or vegetable pie (roubing or caibing), wonton, and noodles, etc. Typical soups include soybean milk (doujiang), jellied bean curd (doufunao), mutton soup, spicy and sour soup (latang), and porridge cooked with rice, millet, beans, or vegetables, etc. For the food mentioned above, many can be cooked in different ways, expanding the choices even further.

Another unique thing about Chinese breakfast is that we actually don’t often make breakfast ourselves because it is way too complicated to make most of the above food and it is easy and cheap to grab a breakfast nearby or on the way to work or school! With many small breakfast shops and stalls in open market near communities, schools and office buildings, we can either eat in the shops, or take something home, to school or work.

Chinese people attach extensive attention and affection to everyday meals, and breakfast is a good example. For people from other countries, perhaps they have a very vague idea about what I wrote about due to the tremendous differences in what we eat. In the end, if someone is interested in learning about Chinese culture as well as people’s lifestyle and values with food as the medium, I’d like to recommend a very popular documentary in China called “A Bite of China”, which can be found on Youtube with English subtitles.