Breakfast of Champions

Yasushi Kurita

Yasushi is a writer and editor based in Tokyo.

Comparing Morning Meals in Japan & Taiwan

If you’re planning a trip to Japan, why not add one more destination to your trip? This might not be the right time to travel to Hong Kong, and popular Southeast Asian destinations like Bangkok are an extra seven-hour flight from Tokyo. Here’s our recommendation: take a 3.5-hour flight to Taiwan.

Taiwan may be a short flight from Japan, but it has a very different culture. And it is one of the globe’s culinary leaders. Imagine the meals you could have in Tokyo and Taipei!

Here’s a quick primer on the first meal of the day: breakfast. What do the Taiwanese and Japanese eat to start their day?

Breakfast in Japan

In Japan, a traditional breakfast includes steamed white rice, miso soup, and grilled fish with sides of fermented soybeans called natto, a raw egg, pickles, and seaweed. Fish in the morning? That’s right. Buddhist traditions of shunning meat continue to influence Japanese diets.

Many Japanese eat dried fish called himono at breakfast. The fish is dipped in saltwater and dried in the sun. As a result, himono contains more amino acid and a distinct umami taste that is different from fresh fish. Also, himono cooks faster than fresh fish, which is a plus in the morning.

While the Japanese love their traditional breakfasts, many visitors may struggle with the raw eggs and gooey natto, which is an acquired taste even among the japanese. But if you are up for the adventure, we think the raw egg prepared this way will win you over: First, mix it together with soy sauce, then pour it over your white rice. This is called tamagokake gohan, and frankly, it’s delicious! Remember, Western food also uses raw eggs. Think of French-style milk shakes or tartar sauce. Raw eggs are more nutritious, and the Japanese have been eating them for centuries. While you might worry about bacteria from raw eggs, at least while you are in Japan, you needn’t fret. The Japanese government places the world’s strictest sanitation standards on the production, distribution, and sale of eggs.

As for natto, it’s one of the healthiest breakfast foods on the planet, and those who eat it tend to love it. For more on natto’s benefits and the ultimate way to enjoy the dish, check out www.QAZJapan.com.

Breakfast in Taiwan

While the Japanese typically eat breakfast as a family, that’s not the case in Taiwan. Most people there grab a bite on the way to work or at the office. According to Polestar, a major market research company in Taiwan, 46.3% fo those polled answered that they “always eat out in the morning.” Only 10.3% of the Taiwanese said that they always cook breakfast at home. The remaining 40-plus percent do a little of both.

In a typical Taiwanese family, both parents have full-time jobs, which means they are busy in the morning. Also, for those who rent, apartments typically have very small kitchens or no kitchen at all. Luckily, there are plenty of delicious options for breakfast on the go.

Restaurants serving breakfast open early. There are also plenty of food stands that specialize in breakfast items. Here’s what you have to look forward to during your mornings in Taiwan:

Minced Pork Rice (lu rou fan)

This is easily Taiwan’s favorite breakfast dish. Eateries all across the country have a version of it on their menus. The minced pork is simmered for a long time with a spicy salty-sweet sauce, then poured over cooked rice. This rich morning dish has become a favorite in Japan too. You can also opt for the minced pork over noodles.

Soy Milk Soup (doug jiang)

This dish is made from either sweet or salty soy milk. The thickness and taste vary at each shop, so shop around to find your favorite blend.

Fu Hang Soy Milk. Photo courtesy of _gildas_

Fried Dough Stick (youtiao)

Kneaded flour dough is cut into strips and deep-fried. The standard way to eat these fried dough sticks is to dip them in the soy-milk soup.

World Soymilk King. Photo courtesy of chiquieats.

Congee

In Taiwan, the traditional way to eat congee, a type of rice porridge, is with your favorite small dishes. The taste of the congee can differ quite a bit. Some congee is purposely bland (like the kind you find in Japan), and others are flavored with chicken soup. Order a bowl of congee, choose a few small plates, and bring them to your table. If you’re not sure what to try, ask the server for recommendations. Find just the right mix for you with small dishes of fish, meat, and vegetables.

While you’re in Taiwan, check out these restaurants for breakfast:

World Soy Milk King

Soy milk is a local food that originated in North China. In 1955, the World Soy Milk King opened in Yonghe in New Taipei. Soon, chain shops opened all over Taiwan. This is the Taiwan pioneer of the soy milk breakfast.

Fu Hang Soy Milk

This restaurant started as a small, nondescript shop on a sidestreet, but it has grown into a beloved breakfast spot for tourists and locals alike. Just about every guidebook now includes it. The charm is in the home-cooking that has been the restaurant’s staple since 1958. It’s breakfast like mom used to make. The restaurant typically has long lines, so get there early.

Four Seas Soy Milk King

This is a local favorite for those on the way to work. Most of the orders are to go. There are just four seats inside, and they rarely get used. One feature of Four Seas is that it offers its breakfast menu into the late evening. Since those four chairs often go unused, why not sit a spell, enjoy your breakfast, and watch the people come and go?

NEXT DIVE

Handmade Grill from Kanaami Tsuji

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