What’s for breakfast today?

For me, a first generation Polish-German woman, comfort food for breakfast is essential. This is because in Germany, breakfast is undoubtedly considered the most important meal of the day. It’s likely that everybody has their own idea of the perfect breakfast. That’s because the choices we incorporate or exclude from our everyday food (e.g. breakfast) seem like a personal choice. However, in reality, the foods we eat are highly dependent on cultural and social preferences. As a result, you will always eat foods that mean something to you, and these foods can reveal information about your identity, history and cultural background.

But what will you do when you are thousands of miles away from your home, your favourite sunflower bread from your local bakery , the cottage cheese and the tasty turkey salami that you have every morning for breakfast? When I lived as a student in Beijing that’s what happen to me. So I started my mission: breakfast. Because of my Polish background, I am not accustomed to eating something sweet for breakfast. But very soon I realised that Chinese breakfast foods aren’t sweet. Lucky me. The best time to complete my mission was, of course, in the morning. On my way through the university campus at 7am, I observed students sitting around tables, on stairs and walking through the university park while eating something that looked like an amazing, big dumpling. These dumplings looked similar to dampfnudel (German yeast dumplings) or pierogi (a traditional Polish dish of small dumplings made from unleavened dough and stuffed with various fillings). I was curious. What are German dampfnudel and Polish pierogi doing China?

Polish Pieogi
Polish Pieogi
Chinese Jiaozi
Chinese Jiaozi

What were the university students eating? I asked a student where she got them from and she pointed to a small, grey building. When I entered it, there was a long line of hungry students waiting for their breakfast: baozi and jiaozi. Later on, I was told that this was a canteen that was open only in the morning hours to sell breakfast. I bought a vegetarian baozi and after my first bite, holding it still in my hands like an apple, I was simply dazed. It tasted incredible — similar to a yeast dumpling, the size of an orange, warm, fluffy and stuffed with glass noodles and veggies. The next day I tried the jiaozi, which are steamed dumplings and commonly filled with pork.

Neither baozi nor jiaozi were exactly dampfnudel or pierogi, but they were, assuredly, very similar. As it happened, baozi and jiaozi became my breakfast for the next six months I spent in Beijing.

A woman selling Baozi in Beijing
A woman selling Baozi in Beijing
A man selling Jiaozi in Beijing
A man selling Jiaozi in Beijing

But it wasn’t the last time I found these dumplings, or a variation, on my journey. A few years later I arrived in Almaty, a city of Kazakhstan, Central Asia. To my surprise, they served my beloved jiaozi, but they were called ‘mantou’.

Just as Mintz noted in his book Fast Food/Slow Food, since the discovery of the New World by Europeans, foods can be distributed far and wide with relative ease. With access to new and different raw foods, our eating patterns began to change rapidly. Can you imagine a cuisine without potatoes or tomatoes, which were first imported to Europe from South America in the 16th century?

Today, as a result of globalized food systems, foods and cuisines are spreading all over the world at a frenetic pace. In North America, for example, it is estimated that there are more Chinese restaurants than branches of fast food chains!

Meanwhile, Chinese chefs adapt by learning and trying new Chinese dishes all over the world. As the anthropologist Goody argues, no national or regional cuisine is free from contamination. The result is a remarkable, blooming worldwide Chinese cuisine. But back to my breakfast. After a couple of years not being abroad, I am now traveling through Australia. Since Australia’s Chinese community is large, I started my search for the elusive baozi with high expectations.

Jiaozi in Melbourne at Hutong Dumpling Bar
Jiaozi in Melbourne at Hutong Dumpling Bar

However, everywhere I asked, I heard the same response, “Go to the convenience shop; they have frozen ones”. I wanted fresh baozi, so I continued my search; this brought me to Melbourne, a well-known destination for food lovers. After a few failed attempts at locating baozi, there they were – in a restaurant that only serves freshly made baozi. I was in heaven after tasting the first one. While I may not have baozi for breakfast everyday during my stay in Australia, I feel quite satisfied having had the opportunity to taste them once again.

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Where to eat

Wonderbao Kitchen
Shop 4/19-37 A’Beckett Street, Melbourne VIC
Phone: (03) 9654 7887
Web: wonderbaokitchen.com.au

Wonderbao Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

Hutong Dumpling Bar
14-16 Market Lane, Melbourne, VIC
Phone: (03) 9650 8128
Web: hutong.com.au
HuTong Dumpling Bar Menu, Reviews, Photos, Location and Info - Zomato

What to read

Will, Richard(2006). Slow Food: The Cultural Economy of the Global Food System. New York: Altamira Press.

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As the grandchild of two Polish chefs and the child of doughnut shop owners, Barbara's passion for food was put into her cradle. Later she decided to study Cultural Anthropology in Germany, where she got the chance to learn more about food from a theoretical perspective. Her studies, food love and her new affection for urban gardening, have taken her to countries all over the world. You can observe her hunting at the local markets for exotic foods, seeds, tasty dishes, good pictures and storytellers. She is currently travelling through the culinary world of Australia.