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August 4, 2011

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Breakfasts worth getting out of bed for

AN old Chinese saying goes "the day begins with a good start in the morning." Thus Chinese people consider breakfast especially important.

Twenty years ago in Shanghai, the pace of life was not as quick as today.

People would wait in a queue for more than 30 minutes to buy freshly made sheng jian, pan-fried dumplings stuffed with pork. Today, more commuters are found finishing their breakfast on the run as they head to work.

A couple of chefs say breakfast is meant to be enjoyed, not wolfed down in a few minutes.

"It's not a good dining habit," says Roy Dibyendu, chef de cuisine of Tables at The Portman Ritz-Carlton Shanghai. "Eating on the move is bad for digestion, which may hurt the stomach."

Foo Tee Loke, specialty chef at The Eton Hotel Shanghai suggested taking 60 minutes for breakfast whenever possible, taking the time to chew each bite carefully.

Both chefs have elaborate breakfast menus featuring good variety and well-balanced nutrition.

"With guests from different parts of the world with their own food culture and taste preferences, we try to provide diverse options reflecting regional characteristics," Dibyendu says.

At The Portman Ritz-Carlton, diners can select from American, Chinese, Japanese, Continental and Shanghainese breakfasts. At Eton, Cantonese dim sum and Singaporean breakfast set come highly recommended.

Dibyendu recommends trying the Shanghainese Breakfast Set (160 yuan/US$24.69). "Many of our guests are on business trip. Hence, they don't have time to experience the local culture. The Shanghainese Breakfast Set provides them a simple and direct way of knowing the city."

The set nearly covers all regular breakfast foods in Shanghai, from congee (choice of chicken, fish or plain), you tiao (fried dough sticks), soybean milk, ci fan tuan (a steamed glutinous rice ball stuffed with dried meat floss) and steamed dim sum.

Plain congee is served with a crunchy pickle, fu ru (a kind of fermented bean curd) and pi dan (preserved egg that is salty). To make the congee thick, smooth and silky, the chef and his team start working from 4am.

The Traditional Chinese Breakfast Set (25 yuan) at Eton is a good option for getting a general idea of Chinese cuisine from the south to the north. The set includes sliced buns (popular in north China), tea eggs (an egg boiled in tea and five-spice powder), soybean milk and you tiao.

Foo recommends his Singapore Breakfast (48 yuan). "There are many Singaporeans living in Shanghai like me. I hope to bring them the familiar taste of home. But it's also suitable for people outside Singapore to learn more about the country."

The set includes kaya toast, toasted white bread with a spread of coconut milk, sugar and butter, a half-boiled egg and Singaporean milk tea.

Sirko Otto, food and beverage manager at The Eton Hotel recommends covering every part of the bread with the kaya spread for a smoother texture.

Don't forget to pair it with Eton's home-made milk tea. The strong tea is refreshing and is great for cleansing the palate.

Both chefs say nutrition is an important consideration when making the menu.

"Many people - not only chefs but also housewives - make breakfast heavy and oily to supply more protein," says Dibyendu.

He says this is not necessary and that healthier options exist.

He launched a special breakfast set named "The Organic" (205 yuan), which is a low-fat option with plenty of nutrients for those aiming to keep fit and healthy. The breakfast includes a spinach tomato egg white omelet, cereal, basil, carrot juice and green tea, plus a choice of either skimmed milk, soy milk or low-fat yogurt.

Foo says during the summer it's easy to lose moisture and consume vitamins. He highly recommended drinking a glass of fresh fruit juice every morning.

Both hotels' breakfast sets are available to non-hotel guests.


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