A Tasty Guide to Asian Breakfast Traditions
Boldly seeking out new flavors to feast on is one of the most anticipatory aspects of any international journey. We seek out authentic street food at lunch and celebrated chefs at dinner, ready to expand our palates with local fare, the more unique the better. Except at breakfast, especially in Asia’s culinary rich countries, where too many times we opt for the “western” option at the hotel—bacon, scrambled eggs and toast—unsure of what the regional take on the morning meal will consist of.
To reverse that uncertainty and to pique your taste buds, here are some breakfast traditions and special dishes to look forward to the next time you’re traveling to China, Japan and Southeast Asia.
Dairy is not a popular food group in China, so you will not find milk, butter or yogurt on your breakfast tray. Instead, think of stronger flavors, such as spicy oils and salted eggs. Congee—a thickened soup similar to oatmeal or porridge—is a staple with regional differences across the land. It’s seldom sweetened; they pile on pickled vegetables, soy sauce and bamboo shoots to give it texture and flavor.
Steamed buns are another mainstay to start off your morning. The savory variety are filled with anything from ground pork and eggplant, while the sweeter variations come with bean paste or creamy custard. Often sold separately, we recommend that you purchase small baskets of eight to nibble on throughout the day.
Rice is such a crucial crop in Japan, they call their breakfast asagohan or “morning rice.” Rice is typically partnered with miso, a soybean paste-broth soup served with tofu and chives that, according to legend, was sent down from the gods to ensure health, longevity and happiness. No wonder they consume it to start their days!
Adventurous eaters should try natto, a dish that is especially popular in eastern Japan. Made from fermented soybeans and served with soy sauce, mustard and onions, natto packs both a protein punch and a gut punch in the form of super bacteria that aid digestion. You’ll know it’s authentic by its pungent smell and gooey, stringy texture. But don’t let its looks fool you: The dish has a similar taste profile as foie gras or Brie.
How popular is kaya toast, the signature breakfast item in Singapore? Well, they now serve it at McDonald’s. You should definitely sink your teeth into this delicious mixture of coconut jam, eggs and butter served on toast, though we recommend you purchase from small shops that have been selling this filling delicacy for over 70 years. For those on the go, stop by a street vendor for roti parathas, crispy pancakes served with a dipping sauce made from spicy curry.
You can’t eat in Vietnam without trying pho, even in the morning. This rice- or wheat-based soup is flavored with your choice of meat and topped with bamboo shoots, roasted peanuts, cilantro or a host of other flavors, often served with a fish or chili sauce. Vietnam’s other popular breakfast staple is a bit less obvious than pho. Due to French occupation in the 1800s, French bread, or simply bánh mì, is consumed regularly across the country, made into a sandwich or eaten as a side to pho.
With a long-standing foodie culture and a history of British rule, the breakfast scene in Hong Kong is diverse and delish. From macaroni soup with salted meat to sweetened milk bread toasted and filled with savory ingredients, your breakfast choices are as amazing as the view from atop Victoria Peak. Whatever you order, be sure to wash it down with Hong Kong’s famous milk tea, a strong black tea brewed in a silk stocking and served either hot or cold.
WHERE TO STAY
Complimentary breakfast is just one of the many benefits you’ll enjoy at SELECT Hotels & Resorts, as well as on the cruises below, when booked through our agency. Many of these in Asian countries will provide you with a choice of either local or western-style breakfasts, a choice you can now make more easily. Contact Houlahan Travel at 847.868.4502 for more information.
Reprinted by permission from Select Experiences