Article By XIANEASE
Growing up in the US, I had a certain conception of a “balanced breakfast.” It looked like the coda of a thousand Saturday morning breakfast cereal commercials: a sunshiny bowl of sugar, with fruit and OJ and all the etc. you could want. Whether that kind of breakfast is truly balanced is up for debate, but suffice to say that unless you want to head down to, say, Olé and drop 200RMB on imported breakfast cereal just to try and quiet the screaming homesickness in your soul, you won’t be getting that kind of morning eats here in Xi’an. However, if you’re open-minded and have few qualms about getting your breakfast from a street-side cart, there are some really interesting (and delectable) options available to you to get your morning started right.
01 JIAN BING GUO ZI
Let’s start at the start with the reigning emperor of Chinese breakfast: jian bing guo zi. The jian bing part is the thin, crepe-like pancake that becomes an eggy sarcophagus for a crispy, bubbly, deep-fried cracker (that’s the guo zi). Usually done up with spicy peppers, lettuce, cilantro and spring onions, professional jian-bing-eaters may also add one of those SPAM-ish sausages, a package of mushrooms or tofu, or whatever is on-hand. You’ll find two main varieties, a soft and spongy variety and a harder variety with better structural integrity. Either way, it’ll be good.
02 YOU CHA MA HUA
You cha (literally translated as “oil tea”) is a thick porridge that may look a bit like gruel, but actually has a pleasantly subtle, savory flavor. Often paired with ma hua, those dense, hard bread twists you often find at hot pot and maocai restaurants, it’s an easy way to start the day, and will go down easy with a hangover.
03 CAI JIA MO
Everyone knows about rou jia mo, Xi’an’s crown jewel of meat inside circular bread, but fewer people know there’s a vegetarian option. Cai jia mo carts can be found most times of day, but are more commonly found in the morning, and usually around larger office complexes (even when I used to work at Huawei, way out in Nowhere District, we had a cai jia mo cart). You’ll recognize it by the terrarium of white Tupperware boxes filled with vegetables. Common ingredients to add include lettuce, carrots, shredded potato, hot peppers and hard-boiled egg—but the pro-tip here is to give the texture some variety by adding a crunchy spoonful of guo ba (those spicy orange waffle crackers you eat by the handful when drinking at bars).
04 HU LA TANG
While not native to the area, you really can’t throw a stone in this city without hitting a hu la tang restaurant. Beloved both as a breakfast and as a way to quell the late-night, post-bar hunger pangs, this hearty and gelatinous soup is filled with vegetables and adorable little meat balls, all brought together by a strong dash of black peppercorn for flavor. While one bowl will stick to your ribs for hours, hungrier bellies can also pair it with a beef rou jia mo (you know, the one with the more corned-beef-like meat in it).
05 DOU FU NAO
We end this list with another food that has a great literal translation—the “tofu brain.” This one’s for the vegans out there who will miss out on most of this list because of the prominence of eggs and animal-based oils used in the cooking process. Dou fu nao can be found in most places around China, but seeing as Xi’an is considered part of northern China, you’ll find the saltier variety of this dish around town, usually topped with pickled beans and flavored with soy sauce and/or vinegar.
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