Breakfast can be the hardest part of traveling. For most people, waking up is a ritual, and disturbing the details of that ritual—the shower, the coffee, the bowl of cereal with 2% milk—can feel much disruptive and dangerous than any other part of being away from home. (On my first visit to China, as an exchange student in Beijing, I had a friend who spent $15 on a single box of Cheerios in an expat-friendly market. At the time, that money could have bought her lunch for two weeks. But to her, the expense was worth it to feel normal in the mornings again.)
Thankfully, I learned to embrace local breakfasts pretty quickly. I still need a little coffee or tea (with milk) when I wake up, but after that, anything goes. But learning to love local Chinese breakfasts is actually not much of an accomplishment, because it turns out that spicy noodles, tofu with herbs and spices, wontons in chile oil, and all of the other wonderful things that people eat in China in the morning are actually some of the best breakfasts in the world. I miss them when I’m home. And since I can’t have them now, I thought I’d torture myself (and anyone else who cares to join me) with a photo essay of some of our best breakfasts from our most recent trip to Chengdu and Yunnan. 吃 吧!
On the streets of Chengdu – fresh, warm tofu with soy sauce, chile oil, Sichuan peppercorns, peanuts, scallions, and probably all sorts of other deliciousness.
At Handsome Ma’s in Chengdu – wontons in chile oil, with some steamed eggs topped with braised pork. One of my all-time favorite breakfasts.
The next morning at Handsome Ma’s – fish-fragrant sparerib noodles.
A little bit of everything at a place in the town a few minutes outside the Puzhehei (普者黑) scenic area (ie, the town where the locals actually live) – noodle soup with sliced pork and fermented bean sauce, sweet millet zhou, and chewy rice flour balls in sweet broth.
A Zhuang family’s multi-generational breakfast hour.
Noodles with roast pork, deep-fried pork, cabbage, two kinds of pickles, scallions, and cilantro.
Breakfast noodles two ways (also in Puzhehei) – thick and chewy with stewed pork and thin and slippery with offal. With lots of herbs, pickles, and chile, of course.
Super simple rice noodles with scallions in Yuanyang. Perfect for a cold, wet morning.
Cabbage pickle and a dollop of ridiculously spicy dried chile paste to add to the noodles in Yuanyang.
A tiny noodle aficionado.
A simple, perfect bowl of noodles in northern Yunnan.
A stunning breakfast spot in Tacheng, in northern Yunnan.