How the Real Chinese Eat Instead of Restaurant-Style Fare, Most Have a Cuisine Rich in Grains, Vegetables, and Folklore. BREAKFAST IN BEIJING

By Ann Scott Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor | The Christian Science Monitor, October 31, 1991 | Go to article overview

How the Real Chinese Eat Instead of Restaurant-Style Fare, Most Have a Cuisine Rich in Grains, Vegetables, and Folklore. BREAKFAST IN BEIJING


Ann Scott Tyson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor


IT'S 7:20 a.m. Amid the chime of bicycle bells on a tree-lined, cobblestone Beijing street comes the rap of a Chinese cleaver slicing soft wheat dough.

SSSsszzz! Twisted strips of dough sizzle in hot peanut oil, turning crisp, golden, and puffy as red flames flicker under the black wok.

A cook uses chopsticks to lift the dripping you zha gui, literally, "ghosts fried in oil," into a wire basket for a moment before wrapping them in brown paper for customers lined up at the sidewalk food stall.

"This is Beijing's ancient tradition, Beijing's flavor," says Tian Yusheng, a retired railway worker, as he bites into one of the long, fragrant rolls. Each one costs just three cents plus a grain coupon.

Further down the bustling street, a young female shop clerk eats a roll lightly brushed with brown sugar and then downs a two-cent bowl of hot soybean milk before catching a bus.

"I like this, and it's full of vitamins," says Zhai Manjun, sitting at a large, outdoor table at the Majestic Roc eatery near Wangfujing in central Beijing.

Wonton (dumpling) soup, sesame seed cakes, and steamed wheat buns stuffed with red bean paste are other favorites of the morning rush-hour crowd. Another popular snack is jian bing, a paper-thin egg pancake seasoned with green onion and fresh coriander and wrapped around a fried wheat roll.

Tasty, quick, cheap, and nutritious - this is breakfast, Beijing style.

Indeed, the daily diet of most of China's 1.1 billion people little resembles the rich, often exotic Chinese cuisine lavished on visiting foreigners at banquets or in hotel dining rooms. Nor is it similar to the fare served in many Chinese restaurants abroad.

A major, 900-page study of Chinese eating habits published last year by Cornell University shows that most Chinese still eat a plant-based diet dominated by large helpings of grain and vegetables. This is despite a recent trend in big cities toward eating more meat and dairy products.

The joint Chinese-American study, which canvassed some 2,000 rural households in 65 diverse counties, praised the simple Chinese diet as economical and healthful. "One hundred percent plant food is enough for people, from the scientific view," says Chen Junshi, deputy director of the Institute of Nutrition at the Chinese Academy of Preventative Medicine.

What it lacks in rich ingredients, Chinese home cooking makes up for with its wealth of distinct flavorings, obsession for freshness, and techniques honed for thousands of years by a huge population living off limited tillage. …

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