Breakfasts around the World: China and India

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If someone asked you what you eat for breakfast every day, your answer may be something like eggs, bacon, toast, or cereal. These are just a few of the breakfast foods that the typical Europeans would enjoy.

But believe it or not, people from other cultures might be shocked by this.

Food and culture are so intertwined that how we prepare and eat our food is very influenced by where we live and what we believe. This is especially true when it comes to breakfast – the most important meal of the day, or so they say.

Let’s take a look at some of the traditional breakfast foods enjoyed in the two most populous countries in the world: China and India.

Breakfast in China 

While we may have a certain idea about which foods should be eaten at breakfast, China’s breakfasts look a little different to ours. With China being such a massive country, a typical breakfast can include a variety of foods depending on the region. For example, rice is typically the staple food for individuals in the south, while foods made of wheat flour like steamed bread and buns are the staple for those living in the north.

Read more: The English Language Learning Market in China

Cultural differences

In Chinese culture, men and women have different social responsibilities. For example, they follow the saying, “men outside the home, women inside.” More so in rural areas, women are responsible for cooking and cleaning. They often buy the food too. Interestingly enough, Chinese people spend a lot of time cooking, about three hours a day.

A typical Cantonese breakfast includes morning tea, shrimp dumplings, some form of vegetables, steamed buns, chicken legs, fritters, and soy milk. Northern Chinese breakfasts include bread, porridge, and noodles, while also including dumplings and fritters. However, most do not eat fruit or vegetables for breakfast.

Many Chinese people eat their breakfast between 6:00 am and 8:00 am. There is about an equal split between those who have their breakfast at home versus at a restaurant or their job, and very few eat on their way to work. The day typically begins with a bowl of congee, a type of rice porridge, or zhou, a wet rice gruel that resembles porridge. These can be made either sweet or savoury and can be seasoned with a variety of flavourings such as chicken or mushroom. People usually enjoy their congee with a side of crullers (youtiao), or “deep-fried devils,” which are twisted strips of deep-fried dough.


Typical Chinese breakfasts

Although steamed dumplings and buns are popular at any time of day, they are particularly eaten at breakfast, and they can either be stuffed (baozi) or unstuffed (mantou). While baozi are stuffed with anything from pork to vegetables, mantou is made from wheat flour and is prepared in a steam bamboo basket.

Possibly one of the most popular breakfasts sold at Chinese street stalls, jianbing is the Chinese version of what we call crêpes. It is typically made of wheat and grains and includes an egg, deep-fried crackers, a few savoury/spicy sauces, coriander, and chopped scallions. These delicious crêpes are full of bold flavour and contrasting textures and are perfect for a quick breakfast on the way to work.

When Westerners think about noodles, they definitely don’t consider them a go-to breakfast meal. Hot and dry noodles were invented in the central Chinese city of Wuhan, and they are cooked in sesame oil until delicate and then reheated in boiling water immediately before being served. They are often topped with sesame oil, garlic, chives, pickled vegetables, or chilli sauce. Other noodles, such as soy sauce noodles and mala (hot and numbing noodles), are also very popular breakfast foods. 


Breakfast in India 

Like China, India is a huge country with adiverse population containing thousands of different ethnic groups and hundreds of languages. The history of Indian cuisine is rich with symbolism and traditions. The Indus valley region cooks with wild grains, plants, and herbs that are still staples today. Indian cuisine is infused with the fragrance of rose water, the use of spices, and the texture of yoghurt.  The Indian food system emphasises eating naturally and according to the season, like mangoes during summer, and root vegetables in winter.

A large portion of Indian food is eaten with fingers or bread used as utensils, and there is a wide variety of bread to accompany meals, such as naan, a leavened, oven-baked flatbread, and bhatoora, a fried flatbread popular in the north and eaten with chickpea curry. Indians believe that eating with your hands evokes emotions and passion, as the very act of eating is supposed to be a sensory experience. Interestingly enough, physically feeling your food could stimulate digestion by signalling to your stomach that you are about to eat.

Many Indians are vegetarian, but chicken and lamb are common for non-vegetarians. Food in north India reflects strong central Asian influences, while the food of southern India makes great use of spices and chillies, fish and sweetened coconuts. West India is known for their unique flavours and varieties of food, and you can even find some Portuguese influence in their dishes. East Indian cooking reflects Bengali and Assamese styles, favouring a variety of fishes and common use of the bamboo shoots.


Northern India

Northern regions have heavier breakfasts, due to the belief that people living in the colder regions need more fat to burn and produce energy. Roti is a flat wheat bread made with whole wheat flour, salt, and water, and is usually served with vegetable or lentil curry. Paratha is another similar type of bread, but it is made with a different process, and it can also be stuffed with ingredients such as gobi (cauliflower), paneer (cheese), and aloo (potato). Poha is another simple breakfast and is one of the few rice-based breakfast dishes. The rice is boiled and then pressed and dried, typically seasoned with mustard seeds, curry leaves, and turmeric powder. Puri, a deep-fried soft bread, is a common dish that can be found in both north and south Indian cuisine. Savoury versions of this dish can be served alongside potatoes, or sweet versions can be served with Kesari, an Indian sweet made with cream of wheat.

Southern India

Southern regions of India have the most distinct foods for breakfast, and they are light on the stomach, but filling nonetheless. Dosa is a crêpe made from rice and lentil batter. Idli can be made from the same batter, but it is poured into plates that resemble cupcake trays. They are typically served with sambhar (lentil soup) and chutney, which ranges from coconut, mint, onion, cilantro, peanut, and more. Semiya and rava uppma is a vermicelli-based breakfast. Rava uppma is a cream of wheat-based breakfast, and both are usually served with coconut chutney and sambhar. Idiyappam is a steamed rice noodle served with vegetable korma, but it can also be prepared with sweetened coconut milk and a hint of cardamom, making the ideal light and refreshing breakfast.

There’s no doubt that Indian cuisine is as interesting as the cultures and religions that make up the country. While there are many regions in India that do not traditionally eat breakfast, there are countless arrays of dishes consumed across the country every morning. Staples of an Indian diet include wheat, pulses with chana and basmati rice. Indian breakfast is much like a regular meal in other countries and incorporates many variations of spices and curries, including cardamom, turmeric, dried hot peppers, cinnamon, ginger, and coriander, just to name a few.

So if you’re a bit tired of cornflakes and toast for breakfast, you could consider spicing up your breakfast with a little inspiration from our friends in China and India.


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