In honour of the New Year, the team at oneyearmandarin is announcing a new category called: âyour questions answeredâ. In keeping with tradition, said category will from hereon out be referred to by its acronymal name, YQA (pronounced âwhy-q-ehâ).
YQA is 100% reader driven. If you, the reader, have a question about life in China, post it on the site and the team at oneyearmandarin will immediately drop whatever he is doing and undertake an aggressive inquiry. Upon completion of that inquiry, the team will input all findings into the accounting program Quicken and the resulting auto-generated report will then be passed off as investigative journalism here on the site.
Iâve no doubt this idea has bird-flu potential, but just this once, in order to get things rolling, Iâll ask myself a question about life in China.
YQA # 1: What is breakfast like in China?
Thatâs a great question people. Sort of hard to answer definitively because China is pretty big and Iâm not often invited into homes for crack-of-dawn meals, but Iâll do my best to make some generalizations.
In a nutshell, breakfast in China is not bad, but not as good as home.
The problem with breakfast in China is that here, as in much of the non-western world, the natural right of breakfast to mealhood is not recognized or protected. Indeed, often it is difficult to even differentiate breakfast foods from lunch/dinner foods.
Whereas in Canada we have whole line-up of diverse and tasty options including but not limited to: cereal, porridge, bagels, toast, fruits, yoghurt, latkes, hashbrowns, omelets, etcetera; in much of Asia it is not uncommon to eat soups, curries, and rice for breakfast. This is not good. Those are lunch/dinner foods. They have their time and place and it is not the morning. At breakfast one should have distinct options. During the week, maybe in a bit of rush, one should be able to go lite with a piece of buttered toast, sliced apple and some tea, or maybe just a bowl of honey-nut cheerios. Weekend rolls around, no need to hurry out the door, one ought to be able to crack open the Rebar cookbook and make some freaky pancakes, pour some Quebec maple syrup on that stack, and serve it up with a fat dollop of Balkan yoghourt. Any vegans in the house? No? Good. Letâs throw some sausage and bacon on the side.
The right to this type of occurrence should be protected for all world citizens.
But on the roadâ¦ grim picture folks. Down Mexico way itâs not too bad. Theyâve got the eggs part figured out at least. And tortillas, guacamole, salsa, etcetera are all masterful breakfast additions. Butâand this is crucialâour Mexican neighbours, like the Chinese, still fail to recognize the crucial distinction between the concept of morning-foods versus rest-of-day foods. The only reason they are sneaking into the minor-recognition-category is due to the fact that Mexican cuisine in general is sort of breakfasty. Slopping up saucy eggs and fried onions with tortillas is an every meal sort up thing in Mexico that is coincidentally a great once-in-awhile breakfast option up north.
Outside of western breakfast oriented nations such as Canada, and Mexico and all the other tortilla eating nations of the southern hemisphere, we are left with Antarctica, Greenland, Africa and Asia. I cannot speak authoritatively on the first two, but from what Iâve seen in Asia and Africa, the general state of breakfast in the worldâs most populous nations is dismal.
In these global regions, which I refer to as âbreakfast dead zonesâ, what we have on offer is a variety of noodle soups, rice dishes, and highly refined fried bread products. Typically, their only redeeming breakfast feature is that they are served to people who have recently awoken. Maybe they taste OK, but the timing is at issue. Granted, you can find some porridges, fruits, yoghourts, and egg meals, but they always seem poorly executed if youâve grown up on in the breakfast loving free world.
Indeed, the issue isnât so much whatâs on offer as what is not and without a doubt the greatest void is that of the classic Can-American breakfast: eggs how you want em, hashbrowns, toast with jam, meat, and maybe a pancake for good measure. If ever there was a sign that humanity has some goodness in it, surely it is that ensemble there. China is not totally deprived. One bastion of light persists here, but sadly the closest chain is a half-hour bus ride from my school.
Well, if you can let go of your hang-ups, there are some interesting morning foods here. Iâd say the most standard players are rice porridge (zhou), warm soymilk (dou nai), deep friend bread products, dumplings (jiao zi), steam buns (bao zi), boiled eggs, and soups. Here is a picture of my most typical breakfast showcasing almost all these staples.
Of those standard chinese go-tos, the most ubiquitous has to be the rice porridge, zhou, seen in the top right of photo. Zhou is served watery in a variety of colours/flavours and drunken from a bowl. I actually really like zhou and surprisingly do not get sick of it. Further, I have to give zhou credit because, despite the blasphemous fact that it is rice-based (not a breakfast staple!), it feels good to eat in the morning. Itâs not too heavy, hydrates, goes well with bread products (which can be dipped in it) and is warm. Zhou is OK.
In addition to zhou, Iâve grown accustomed to drinking a bowl of warm soymilkÂ most mornings. The Chinese have only recently begun to drink cow milk in large numbers but have long enjoyed soymilk and it can be found everywhere. In fact, even at KFC a warm cup of sugary sweet dou nai with tapioca balls sitting at the bottom is a top selling treat.
For solid foods, my usual eats are dumplings, steamed buns, and boiled eggs. There are bread products to be had, but this is a rice and noodle nation and whatâs on offer here is just not up to par with my prairie-born expectations (not me, the expectations).
For breakfast meats, bacon and sausage are a no-go, but the steamed buns and dumplings often have ground pork or beef in them. You wonât find scrambled/sunny/poached, but tea-boiled eggs are popular. They are stained brown from the boiling and served in the shell, which you peel off. Fried eggs are commonplace with all sorts of meals, but they are invariably over cooked in oil to a rubbery finish and you will not find ketchup, salsa, pepper or other recognizable seasonings.
After those we get into the fried breads, which are OK for soymilk dips, and then soups, which I refuse to even write about. Not a breakfast food.
In closing Iâll say that despite missing the gourmet spreads of my hipster friends in Montreal and yuppie siblings on the West Coast, I actually get by OK here. If I was living alone it might be a different story as Chinese restaurants do not really serve breakfast, but because I am living at my school, I usually eat at our cafeteria, which I quite like. For lunch and dinner, it is Lunch Lady Doris all the way, so I usually eat off campus. But breakfast foods are so standard that it is easy to get into rhythm with them, and so I actually quite enjoy my cafeteria breakfasts.
Unfortunately, my Russian friend Andale doesnât feel the same way.