Experts say “Breakfast is the most important meal of the day.” And by experts I mean people just say that whenever you say you missed breakfast. At first glance, it seems like the Chinese food culture may have forgotten this golden rule. But look again. There are actually plenty of amazing Chinese breakfast options, that hardly any non-Chinese people know about. So next time you’re looking for a morning meal, try starting your day the Chinese way.
Fan Tuan (饭团)
So what is Fan Tuan? It’s pretty simple actually. Fan Tuan 饭团 literally means rice (fan 饭) ball (tuan 团). It’s fried dough (油条 Yóutiáo) and maybe some pork floss (肉松 Ròusōng) encased in sticky, glutinous rice. It’s a sweet rice breakfast burrito!
There are a few variations to this delicious Chinese breakfast based on the region you get it in. You can get egg or meat on the inside. It can come long and skinny or in a ball. And even get flavored rice. Test out a few different ingredients to see which you like best.
Add sweet or savory soy milk to make fan tuan a complete breakfast, just like the locals of Eastern China, Hong Kong and Taiwan. If you’re lucky, some places will shape the fan tuan into fun things like hello kitty, minions or cute animals.
Douhua/Tofu Pudding (豆花)
Douhua is almost like the yogurt of Chinese breakfast. It’s soft and gooey, and everyone adds their own toppings to it to make it a complete breakfast. This can be found wherever ancient Chinese culture had influence: China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Malaysia, and Singapore.
There are basically two main kinds of Tofu Pudding. In Northern China, where the palate is more savory, soy sauce is added to douhua along with scallions. The other main kind is sweet Tofu Pudding, where toppings like red beans, fruit, nuts and sugar can be added. There’s also the Sichuan kind, where they add peppers (obviously).
Sweet or savory, spicy or plain, you can build the perfect breakfast right to your liking through trial and error. Don’t be afraid to try different combinations. I personally like sugar, fruit and red beans in mine (I have a sweet tooth). The sweeter douhua tends to be softer and liquid, whereas the savory douhua will curdle a little bit and become thicker (called 豆浆 Dòujiāng).
Chinese Meat Pie (馅饼)
Xiàn bǐng is is a great one-handed, to go breakfast that can be found at morning street stalls all over China. Chinese Meat Pies are like Chinese breakfast quesadillas or pitas. The outside dough is pan fried with oil to make them crispy, while the inside can have a few different fillings.
Chinese Meat Pies can have pork, beef and scallions in them. The inside is savory and the outside is crispy and salty. Similar to scallion pancakes (葱油饼 cōng yóu bǐng), Xian Bing are pan fried and then stuck next to a flame to toast. These warm pockets of meat and scallions are great for the morning when tempatures are a little bit colder.
Xian Bing is originally from Northern China and is a staple in Dong Bei peoples’ breakfasts. Unlike fried dumplings, Chinese meat pie is much more filling. Since you can get meat, vegetables or both as fillings, they make a great breakfast for everyone.These street snacks are freshly made to-order, so they may take a little while to make by hand. The dough needs to be rolled out, fillings stuffed in and closed, pan fried and toasted perfectly. Be patient, they’re worth it.
Fried Dough Sandwich (大饼油条)
What are the components of a Fried Dough (You Tiao) Sandwich? Fried dough and a bun. Fried dough (yóu tiáo 油条), also called a Chinese doughnut, is a delicious Chinese breakfast on its own. It’s flaky, crispy and sweet. Combine that with Da Bing (dà bǐng 大饼), which is essentially large, flat, oval dough used as a bun, and you’ve got yourself a tasty Chinese breakfast sandwich.
It may seem weird to be eating dough inside of dough, but it seriously takes a high level of skill to make this seemingly plain sandwich tasty. The you tiao must be crispy on the outside, but fluffy on the inside, while the da bing should be toasted, but not too hard. The perfect Da Bing You Tiao is surprisingly hard to master, yet Chinese breakfast vendors have it down to an art.
In Taiwan and some places in China, it’s common to put scallions and egg inside of the Fried Dough Sandwich. You can always add whatever sauce (condensed milk, red bean paste, la jiang, etc.), but oddly enough, most people will eat this completely plain.
Egg Pancake (蛋饼)
If you have explored late-night and morning breakfast stalls, you will know about 煎饼 Jian Bing (Chinese pancake). This is similar but a different kind of pancake. The two major differences between Jian Bing and Dan Bing are the wraps and the ingredients. Dan Bing is soft, thick and fluffy, and contains egg and scallions in the middle, while Jian Bing has a thin, crunchy wrap and has fried dough and cilantro in it.
The best part of Dan Bing is you can add more ingredients to it for just a few extra RMBs, like sausages, more eggs, pork floss, ham, bacon, cheese, etc. It’s like an omelette you eat with you hands.
While this tasty breakfast is quite popular in Taiwan, it can be found all around China as well. In Taiwan, they slice up the Dan Bing into little rolls and serve it on a plate, but in China they typically split it in half and give it to you in a bag so you can eat on the go.
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