Wondering what to eat for breakfast in China? Taking a China tour and confused about the food options?
That’s hardly a surprise. China is a vast country and the diversity of cultures and cuisines is one of its many distinguishing features. So how do you know what to eat?
Whether it’s breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even snacks in between, traveling to China is the ideal opportunity to channel your inner adventurer and eat like a local.
And there’s no reason breakfast shouldn’t be challenge or excite your palette. After all, it’s arguably the most important meal of the day – and if there’s a full day of touring on the cards, there’s even more reason to do your research. That way you’ll know what to eat for breakfast – and be well-fed for the day ahead.
Keep this list of local breakfast tips for destinations in China. It provides everything you need to know about what to eat for breakfast.
Breakfast in Beijing: Stir-fried liver / 炒肝儿
Certainly liver is not going to make it to the top of every traveler’s favorites’ list, however stir fried liver is a popular Beijing breakfast.
Actually, the name is a little deceiving, because the liver is not stir fried, but boiled with pig intestine and liver, and with starch to form a thick soup.
Traditionally, fried liver is drunk directly from the bowl, rather than using a spoon and chopsticks. So if you see someone enjoying their stir-fried liver with chopsticks and spoon, then there’s a very good change that they’re not from Beijing.
Breakfast in Xian: Rougamo or Chinese hamburger / 肉夹馍
Xian is one of China’s lively cities and the food found in this part of Shaanxi province has a reputation that precedes it.
It’s Xian where you’ll find the Roujiamo or Rougamo, otherwise considered the Chinese equivalent of a hamburger.
Essentially strips of beautifully tender ‘fatty’ meat served in a crispy bun, it’s difficult to eat just one. The rougamo originates in Shaanxi, but it is popular all over China.
Regardless of where your China tour takes you, you almost certainly find this hearty breakfast from the early hours in every city. It has truly become a real national breakfast.
Breakfast in Shanghai, Suzhou + Hangzhou: Soup buns / 灌汤包
Like the rougamo from Xian, you’ll find many versions of the ‘soup bun’, which has its origins in Shanghai, and Suzhou and Hangzhou close by.
The name soup bun describes the way the dumpling is filled with meat and broth.
Eating these delicious morsels is a bit like combining noodles, meat and soup – three staples of Chinese cuisine.
Be sure to order plenty, because one or two just won’t be enough.
More breakfast in Shanghai, Suzhou + Hangzhou: Pan-Fried Bun / 生煎
With a ‘bun-heavy’ breakfast menu, you could be forgiven for thinking that the Chinese are obsessed with loading ‘carbs’ early on in the day. The pan-fried buns of Shanghai (Suzhou and Hangzhou) only reinforce this idea.
Fried buns have a crisp bottom and are typically sprinkled with shallots. Perfect In the middle of winter, freshly fried buns are perfect for keeping out the cold.
Breakfast in Xiamen: Sha Cha Noodle / 沙茶面
History would have us believe sha cha sauce is an earlier version of satay sauce – and this is possibly true. Sha Cha originated in Xiamen in China’s Fujian province and many people from this region made their way to Malaysia, taking the delicious Sha Cha sauce with them.
Sha Cha noodles are simple to make. Simply prepare your noodles in boiling water and when ready, add them to a bowl. Choose from pork liver, pork loin, duck tendon, large intestine, fresh squid, dried tofu and other ingredients according to your taste. Finally, pour the soup over the ingredients in the soup bowl and serve immediately.
Breakfast in Guangzhou: Steamed vermicelli roll / 肠粉
Steamed rice vermicelli rolls are made by rolling a strip of flat shahe fen and then rolling it with meat, vegetables, shrimp, and other delicious ingredients.
Also known as scrambled vermicelli, this dish is hugely popular on Guangzhou mornings, so much so that many outlets that serve them often run out of supplies.
Lovers of the steamed vermicelli roll are a dedicated bunch. They’ll often be found queuing up to place their order, so make sure you’re up early if you plan on trying steamed vermicelli rolls on your China tour.
Breakfast in Guilin: Rice noodles / 米粉
Guilin is famous for its rice noodles, so it’s no surprise to find that rice noodles are recommended for breakfast here.
So what’s the method for rice noodles Guilin-style?
First, the rice noodles are warmed in boiling water, then the guo shao (fried crispy streaky pork), marinated beef jerky, sausage, barbecue, are added, together with brine, peanut oil, crispy soybeans, pepper, garlic, chopped spring onions and pickled vegetables.
Guilin rice noodles are certainly a flavor and colour sensation
Breakfast in Yunnan: Rice-flour noodles / 米线
Rice noodles are a classic of Yunnan food culture. They are a staple at breakfast, lunch, dinner, and for snacks in between. They’re even eaten either hot or cold. So if you’re traveling to Yunnan on your China tour, a Yunnan rice noodle feast is a must.
Breakfast in Chongqing + Chengdu: Hot and Sour Rice Noodles / 酸辣粉
Chongqing and Chengdu have more in common than being located in Sichuan province. They’re also famous for the hot and sour noodles which originated in the region.
Hot and sour noodles are handmade sweet potato noodles served with a variety of ingredients. They are so named because of the combination of hot and sour flavors.
After being refined and perfected over time, you’ll find hot and sour noodles available as popular street food in Sichuan province, including for breakfast.
More breakfast in Chongqing + Chengdu: Chao Shou / 抄手
So what if hot and sour noodles aren’t your thing? There’s no need for concern. In Chongqing and Chengdu, you can eat breakfast like a local and savor the taste of the famous local chao shou – or chili oil wonton.
Yes, wontons are made all over China, however the chili oil chao shou is one of the most famous varieties. Filled with meat and resembling the appearance of two folded arms (hence the name), chao shou are served in soup or chili oil. Like many dishes in Chengdu, it’s wise to eat with caution, or the chili may get the best of you!
Breakfast in Urumqi: Naan Bread / 馕
Urumqi is an iconic destination located on the famous Silk Road and naan bread is a Xinjiang style ‘pancake’ that is a symbol of the region.
Naan bread is made from dough incorporating a little salt water, yeast and flour. Dough is worked out by hand into a round disc shape, brushed with mutton oil, sprinkled with sesame seeds and then baked on hot bricks or in an oven.
There are numerous varieties of naan bread – supposedly up to 50 different types. We’ve listed just a couple here, but you’ll find many more on the streets of Urumqi.
Naan bread made with mutton oil is called oil naan, while naan baked with minced mutton, cumin, pepper and onion is called meat naan. Naan baked with sesame and grape juice is called sesame naan. Can’t decide which one is right for you? Why not try them all!
I suggested to use “Naan bread ” here.
Breakfast in Lan Zhou: Hand-pulled noodle soup with beef / 牛肉拉面
Like so many things in China, the hand-pulled noodle soup has origins that date back many centuries. In fact, it is said the hand-pulled noodle soup with beef originated during the Tang Dynasty and if you’re eating it for breakfast, you’re probably not far from Lan Zhou, located on the Silk Road.
Appreciated throughout China and the world for its unique flavor, the soup is described as being clear as a mirror with meat that is fragrant and falls apart, while the noodles are thin and delicate.
Start your day in Lanzhou with hand-pulled noodle soup with beef and it’s likely you won’t feel the need for anything more during the day.
A final word on what to eat for breakfast in China
The truth is there are so many iconic dishes that make up the richly diverse cuisines of China. The best way to pick your favourite breakfast dish (or dishes!) is to explore the many tastes while on your China tour. Our local bilingual guides will always be there to help you decide if stopping by a local snack street vendor is right, or sitting down with locals at a restaurant will work for you. And you never need to be concerned about what to choose. They’ll help you order too.
ChinaTours.com is dedicated to helping western travelers enjoy a genuine experience of China, including savoring the interesting and exotic tastes from around the country. All our China tours offer a balance of structure and flexibility, including our meals. While breakfast is included in our tour packages, there are many opportunities for choosing your own food with lunches and dinners left to you. Our local guides are knowledgeable and caring and provide advice on the best places to experience the cuisine of each China destination. Keen to know more? Enquire via our contact form and we’ll respond within 24 hours. We’d love to create a China culinary experience you’ll remember always.