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On Beijing Breakfasts

August 9, 2008

I am a huge breakfast person. I’m not talking bacon (obviously) and eggs and waffles (although who doesn’t love pancakes or waffles on occasion?), but fiber-filled cereal, soymilk, greek yogurt, oatmeal, and fresh fruit. My sweet tooth usually acts up in the morning. But something that fascinates me immensely is breakfast in another country. When it comes to Beijing, I’ve been eating breakfast here ever since I was a baby– but things are changing now. We used to stay with my grandparents in a traditional courtyard style house (with the cylindrical ceramic tiles on the roof and everything!) that my dad has now inherited and that we’ve renovated. We used to walk to a white stone bridge, across from which locals sat, eating plump steamed pork buns, doufunao (a gelatinous tofu soup that I’m sure is an acquired taste), youtiao and youbing (savory churros, basically), wonton soup, and shaobing (delicious, frisby-shaped sesame bread).
To sum it up, while in southern China, people eat rice as their primary form of carbohydrates, in the north, bread, pancakes, millet, and noodles abound. We haven’t gone back to Houhai for breakfast yet, but we did enjoy breakfast once at a crowded little restaurant in the park by ourself, and another time by a wonderful morning market.
Unfortunately, I don’t have photos for the first visit, but we got millet porridge (it has no taste, so you can add sugar or eat it with pickled vegetables), shaobing, and another bread made only from cornmeal and studded with dark green wild vegetables. It was a very light, rustic breakfast, and made me feel ready to go weed a vegetable patch or go do some yoga on a mountain.
The second breakfast was probably more filling, since the first one was lacking in protein. We ordered both meat and vegetable steamed dumplings (another sign that China is becoming more veg-friendly!), doufunao, and youtiao. Now, let me explain dofunao. Basically, it’s soft spoonfuls of tofu in a “soup” of soysauce, hot pepper flakes, “tree ear” mushrooms, and a whole lotta cornstarch. You’d probably dislike it because I did too– but maybe you would at least enjoy the sensation of slurping it– the tofu is so cloudlike and weightless that it gets sucked down your throat with a simple inhale, and the salty, spicy sauce zaps you right back down to earth.
As for youtiao, they’re not exactly my thing, but for lovers of fried dough, they’re perfect.
I have some great pictures of the people serving up all this fabulous food and frying the dough.
After breakfast, we wandered to the market. The market was purely local, and it really is shopping for early-birds– by 9:00, everybody has already packed up. Vendors have wheelbarrows filled with exotic melons, pink and white Chinese peaches, and every vegetable you could imagine. My fingers were itching to buy everything, but since we don’t really cook here, it didn’t make sense. But I have a goal to go to a market and create a meal soley out of what I see there!
The best part of the market was beyond the vegetable/fruit part: more breakfast! We saw more dumplings being steamed in their bamboo baskets, fresh, fragrant, sesame paste being ground (We bought a jar that was still hot, along with a bottle of sesame oil), fresh tofu and soymilk being made (we all bought some– Chinese soymilk is much more refreshing and diluted, more like a drink than something you would use as a dairy replacement– see unflattering photo of me drinking it), and huge crates of live crawfish and other bizarre types of seafood (i.e. abalone… I know.. not very eco).
Sadly, we didn’t see any one making noodles– I remember seeing the dough being pulled like taffy and then sliced into stranges. But still, this reminded me more of a Beijing uneffected by the decline of the dollar and the glamor of the olympics.


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