My first encounter with Chinese food—in China—was a simple meal of baozi and zhou. Having landed in Beijing at 5 in the morning, my Chinese friends insisted that I eat some breakfast. We headed to the on-campus baozi cafeteria, where my love affair with this staple Chinese dish began. It was definitely love at first bite, as I sampled a crispy “sheng jian bao” filled with ground pork and green onions and fried to golden perfection, and a fluffy “qing cai bao” which had a delicious spinach filling.

Baozi are steamed buns made of flour and water that come with a variety of fillings, including ground pork, eggplant, spinach, and egg and cabbage, to name a few. This ubiquitous dish can be found all over China and comes in all shapes, tastes, and sizes. Northerners traditionally prefer their baozi salty and savory, while southerners (e.g. Cantonese) prepare theirs on the sweeter side (more like the sweet pork filled buns we find at dim sum restaurants in the US). Baozi are typically eaten for breakfast with a bowl of steaming hot zhou, or rice porridge. Although some of my friends are not big fans of zhou (one of them even compared it to eating warm spit), it has also become one of my comfort foods in China. Zhou comes in a variety of flavors as well, ranging from sweet pumpkin and lotus root to a heartier version with chicken, mushroom, and green onion. I would definitely pick a heaping plate of baozi and a bowl of zhou over plain old bacon and eggs any day!