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My First Chinese Breakfast
After that seemingly endless flight and the taxi ride to the hotel where you spent the night drinking beers and eating from the lobby restaurant buffet, where incidentally no language skills are required, you probably woke up the next morning in need of two things – 2 aspirin/some water and breakfast. In North America or Western Europe this might not pose much of a challenge but in China there are several road blocks to accomplishing this, you used to think, mundane task.

If, like most of us mere mortals, you are not camped out at a five-star hotel that serves western breakfast at western prices you'll need to find a local restaurant that serves something you recognize as edible. At 5 am in a city like Beijing finding Chinese breakfast is a breeze; the only kind of food you can get that early that doesn't come from Q-mart (the local version of 7-11) is breakfast. But you're probably much too civilized to wake up at such an obscenely early hour. When you do finally roll out of bed at 11 am you’re likely to find yourself wandering the Hutongs (back alleys) of Beijing looking for something … anything that meets your substantially reduced requirements for nutrition.

As an ex-pat living in far away China I actually have something useful to offer in the way of guidance for anyone who cares enough to read on.

My first Beijing Breakfast included the two Chinese staples - 粥 zhou (pronounced Joe like G.I. Joe) and some包子 bao zi (pronounced bow - as in take a bow, with the second character pronounced just like you think it might be). Zhou is a kind of rice porridge that has vegetables and thick, nearly congealed, broth. There are gourmet zhou restaurants all over China. It can be ordered with a wide range of extra ingredients such as duck meat, green bean curd, black rice, and many others.

And the other – bao zi – is like a dumpling … but not. It is generally steamed bread with some kind of stuffing like meat or vegetables. You dip it in vinegar – but be careful when you bite, there's a lot of fluid inside and its really hot (not spicy). They come in various sizes and with many kinds of filling but at breakfast time when I ordered some it came in a bamboo container right off of the steam table. This little dish is called 笼long. With out getting into the necessary grammar you should say – yi long bao zi (pronounced 'ee' like the letter'E' 'lohng' long but with a nasal 'on' (sort of French sounding) 'bow zi' as before)

As you can see from this little bit of information knowing even just a little Chinese is incredibly useful. Anyway, my first breakfast was a bit of a Gong Show because the locals could tell right away that I had no idea what I wanted or was trying to order. While I felt I had made a solid effort to learn these two foods I was obviously asking for something rather ridiculous…god knows what it was; but with a little sign language, embarrassment and several stupid smiles from my face I got these two 'normal' foods.

If you are at all interested in having more than a 'touristy' visit i.e. you want to experience some of the culture. You might try getting up a little early (maybe not 5 but 6:30 will do) and find a street vendor serving breakfast.

There are generally 3 kinds of vendors: a makeshift "stove" on a 3-wheeled bike; an enclosed portable stand on wheels; a tiny shop with a walk-up window. They all serve different kinds of dishes and I suggest trying any and all of them. I have and they are ALL good. Both:

1) 煎饼Jian Bing (pronounced 'Gee' like Golly Gee plus 'an' the same as English so 'Gee-an' with 'Bing' also the same as the English word) – a stuffed crepe/omelet thingy with veggies and meat,

2) 油条/饼you tiao/bing (pronounced 'yo'/ tee like golf tee plus 'ow' like the vowel sound in 'how' so tee-ow OR 'yo' 'bing') – a doughnut are good and both are popular choices with the locals.

A final note about Tea the Chinese customary beverage; it is not consumed at breakfast. Although, western style flavored coffee is becoming as popular here as it is in the rest of the world - just not from the street vendors. You'll still need to hit up Seattle's finest for one of those.


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