(Food photos ahead, hungry people beware!)
A little background on Chinese breakfast stall culture that’s too long to fit in just a footnote:
Although some families will get up and make breakfast, most working people and people without kids will often get their breakfast from breakfast stalls, especially during the work week. The reason is simple, there are lots of variety, and it’s fast and convenient. And cheap; five yuan will get you pretty full at most of these stands, which are conveniently congregated near residential clusters, so one usually doesn’t have to walk very far to find one. This also stems from the Chinese food culture which prefers to have a warm meal to start the day, instead of say, cereal in cold milk.
There really are lots of variety to be found at the breakfast stalls, though most of it isn’t what you’d consider ‘healthy food’. Like Cheng-ge ordered in chapter 52 and previously, there’s dumplings, soup dumplings, tofu pudding, fried dough fritters, fried pancakes, braised beef, soy milk, vermicelli, congee, pretty much the things you would find at dimsum, and more! A common combination is some doughy or crispy thing (like a fried dough fritter) coupled with a liquid or soup (soy milk or congee).
These stalls usually open very early, 4-5 AM sometimes, and close at around 10 AM, or even earlier if they sell out. Since these are temporary structures most of the time, they can just pack up their cart and go.
These are almost always open air, with limited tables and stools shared between the different stalls, and sometimes with a tarp overhead. The seats and stalls are usually just on the side of the road, or in an alley by the road, therefore many criticize it to be unsanitary.
Basically, it’s for people who likes yummy food, who cares more about the ease and variety over nutritional content and absolute cleanliness.
Necessary disclaimer: this is based on my own (albeit limited) experience, as well as what I’ve read and heard. China is huge, so the breakfast in different regions are also going to vary greatly, though I think the biggest difference is between the north and the south. There are definitely many many more dishes than what’s shown here!