Food & Travel

The Travelling Table: A Pedestrian Breakfast

By Anonymous Paul on 7 October, 2009

My Pedestrian Breakfast in Hongkong

The idealized Saturday morning breakfast is always a nice picture: eggs, bacon, pancakes with all the trimmings. In real life, my breakfast consists of a mix of dry, whole-grain cereals and flax seed mixed with a probiotic drink or with yoghurt on other days. It doesn’t taste half as bad as you might think. It’s quick and gets me through to lunch with my blood levels pretty much stable (meaning I don’t get into a hypoglycemic bout and do a Serena Williams). While this entry is starting to read like a geriatric’s hospital chart, I would like to say that I do occasionally break away from my normal morning fare.

During a recent trip to Hong Kong, I ditched the hotel breakfast buffets and the McDonald’s coupons and walked around early in the morning on surprisingly empty streets. (I’m accustomed to being bumped while walking so much so that it feels strange to have the sidewalks to myself). I saw a few take-out counters/diners open. On this particular day, I decided to sit in this one. After inspecting the menu (printed in mostly Chinese with blurbs of English), I chose to have some congee and a side order of you tiao (a.k.a. Chinese crullers, bicho-bicho or oily devils) wrapped in steamed rice sheets.

The congee came boiling and had a loose, more fluid consistency than that of lugaw. Mixed in were morsels of century egg, pork strips, fried skin-on peanuts (which gave that smoky-crunchy contrast) and sesame oil. It soothed my growling stomach after the first spoonful.

The side order of you tiao seemed simple, bordering on boring. But after the first bite, you realize its complexity. The you tiao and the rice sheets are made of the same thing: flour and water. But the former is fried and the other steamed. Wrapped together and doused with a sweet soy-based sauce, the combination was brilliant. Dipped in the congee and quickly popped into my mouth, made the you tiao even more interesting.

My kryptonite is definitely fried food. Scanning menus, my eyes would naturally gravitate towards the fried food section. At a buffet, I would automatically pick up something deep-fried. Which explains why I love you tiao. I love it so much that after my mess of a breakfast, I decide to order some to go and ate it on the way home. (If you have to ask, I did not particularly function well that morning.) Known in the Philippines as bicho-bicho, you tiao is locally served dredged in sugar, like a doughnut. Honestly I like it better than regular doughnuts. But what I like best is the original greasy devil. Leavened with baking soda, stretched out in strips and boiled in oil, these fried crullers gives a clean, hard crunch yet remain airy and chewy on the inside. They go perfectly well not only with congee but chopped up in stir-fries – absorbing sauces while giving that texture contrast.

I noticed that a Hong Kong breakfast comprises mostly of carbohydrates. Noodles, congee, zongzi (a.k.a. machang) or you tiao are served hot (or with something hot and liquidy) to soothe an empty stomach. Flavors are relatively mild so as not to shock the system. With the exception of some warm soy milk, hardly any drinks are taken. Not even tea. The whole meal is consumed fast, in typical Hong Kong fashion. I like the experience in general but I noticed I ran out of gas well before lunch. Oh well, it’s back to eating cardboard…

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  • OCTOBER 8, 2009 3:41 AM

    MrsLavendula said...

    fried food as kryptonite...i can definitely relate!

  • OCTOBER 8, 2009 6:16 AM

    Watergirl said...

    HK diners along a street in the back of Causeway Bay, breakfast sets may include a bowl of noodle soup (macaroni) topped with shredded ham, a fried egg, and a cup of sweet hot milk tea. You can also pick up some of the stuffed buns (cha siu or custard filled) for a mid-morning snack.
    Or get a big bowl of wanton mian, my favorite!