After almost three weeks of eating with chopsticks at every meal, we food editors touring China were so experienced we could even use them to pick up our peanuts at breakfast.
Peanuts are often part of breakfast in China, along with congee -- rice gruel or porridge, like oatmeal and our other hot cereals; salted fish; sponge cake; and other foods that might seem a bit unusual, especially as the first meal of the day.
But I liked the Chinese breakfast, and so did about a third of the people i was traveling with. The others had what is called American or Western breakfast.
Many people who had been to China told me not to depend on the Chinese breakfast. Some even said to take along extra food such as granola. But I liked the breakfasts, especially those served in little breakfast shops in the market areas and in some of the small streets and lanes.
Hotels for tourists serve both Chinese and American breakfasts. You can tell the minute you enter the dining room by checking out the table setting to see if there are chopsticks or silver. You must let the hotel know in advance if you want Chinese breakfast, however.
A breakfast in China can include any but not necessarily all of the following , and usually only a small amount of each: There is almost always a bowl of hot congee or noodles, sometimes several small dishes of savories such as smoked or salted fish, pickled radish, spiced beef, pickled onions, shrimps, walnuts, and a few peanuts.
The plain sponge cake is typical. And the Chinese have interesting doughnuts and crullers, often cooked and sold on the streets in early morning.
Actually this kind of menu has similarities to our own breakfasts.
The salty foods stimulate the appetite, much as our sharp citrus orange and grapefruit juices in the morning. And the various kinds of Chinese crullers and buns are also like our doughnuts and crullers, although not so sweet.
One morning at breakfast, Warren Henneger of Bloomington, Ind., and agronomist and guide for our group, suggested I try the ham sandwiches at the American breakfast table. I did, and although the bread tasted like good, firm, homemade bread, the ham was not all like the American ham we use for sandwiches.
Chinese ham is salty, with a stronger flavor. It is not as good for sandwiches as it is when used in the Chinese manner for a flavoring with vegetables, in winter melon soup, and in other Chinese dishes.
We noticed that foods at breakfast were slightly different in Peking, in the north, than at Canton, in the south. In Canton the congee is usually served with four or five kinds of dim sum, such as pork dumplings, sesame biscuits, roast pork, fried saltwater dough stuffed with dried shrimp, and the famous long fried roll or cruller. This breakfast usually costs less than a dollar.
The congee in Canton is different from the northern kind, which was very plain. The Cantonese usually add bits of meat or fish, and sometimes the rice is cooked in a fish or meat broth.
The sponge cake, which is called simply sponge, is steamed. I only saw it served at breakfast, although it is also served in teahouses and can be bought at Chinese bakeries.
The cake, usually served warm, is cooked by steaming because traditionally the Chinese don't cook with an oven, but it is fine when cold. Americans visiting China like this, perhaps because it is so much like our own sponge cake.
Here is a recipe for the Chinese sponge. Steamed sponge Cake 6 eggs 1 to 1 1/2 cups sugar 2 1/2 tablespoons water 1 1/2 cups flour 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Separate eggs. Beat yolks in large bowl. Add sugar and water and beat until fluffy.
Sift together flour and baking powder. Gradually add to eggs, mixing well, then mix in vanilla.
Beat eggs white until they form peaks and are stiff but not dry, and fold into batter.
Line a cake pan, about 8 or 9 inches square by 3 inches, with waxed paper or foil. Pour batter into pan.Steam until done, 20 to 25 minutes.
When it is done, a toothpick inserted in center will come out clean.
Cool before removing. cut into 2-inch squares and serve hot or cold.The batter can also be poured into paper cupcake cups or greased custard cups.