Discovery: Breakfast at Northern China Eatery
A diversion from dim sum
What does the rest of the world eat for breakfast? Such a question may
not keep you up at night, but even the most active ethnic buffs often
draw a blank when it comes to other cultures’ ways of starting the day.
Breakfast central for the local Beijing community is Northern China
Eatery, a sweet, unadorned dining room on Buford Highway that sits in
the shadows of Italy Optical, a fancy Asian-owned establishment whose
sign you should watch for in order to make the proper turn. There is no
need to scramble out of bed early for hot soy milk; crisp, long
crullers served plain or folded into thin egg cakes with hot sauce;
dumplings; savory cakes; and other unexpected, delicious treats.
Breakfast is served all day between 9:30 a.m. and 10 p.m. (except
Thursday, when the restaurant’s hours are shorter) alongside dishes
such as pig’s feet, pig’s ears, noodles with preserved vegetables, and
hot pots filled with stewed oxtail or (I kid you not) ox penis.
Unlike the Cantonese, who eat mostly rice, seafood, and lots of
vegetables, the northern Chinese subsist on a hearty wheat-based diet.
They love hot spices, mutton, and pork meat. Their dumplings are
nothing like the ones you know from going to dim sum, a Cantonese
practice. Order a plate of pan-fried pot stickers barely bigger than
Italian agnolotti, a bamboo steamer with a layer of soup dumplings
replete with rich broth, a couple of pastries such as chive pies, wheat
cakes stuffed with beef, or a large Mandarin pork cake divided into
wedges, and you will have a feast.
In order to taste other items, such as brilliant pork buns, boiled
fennel dumplings, and fish fillet hot pot with tofu and cabbage, it is
best to gather a group. I’d be surprised if you managed to spend $10
per person on a memorable meal. The staff isn’t used to having a
Western clientele, but they rise to the occasion in sometimes-limited
English. I have eaten almost everything on the menu, even the delicious
shredded potatoes (cold Chinese hash browns?) and the “crispy rice”
dish consisting of wet, long strips of something that looks like wheat
pancake in a dark bean-paste sauce. I am not giving up bacon and eggs
quite yet, but I crave the tastes offered at this restaurant. 5141 Buford Highway, 770-458-2282
Photograph by Amy Herr