Elderly men and women practice tai chi in the early morning at an open area in front of Ye Chun Teahouse, a popular eatery in Yangzhou, Jiangsu province. [Photo by OWEN FISHWICK/CHINA DAILY]
The first food to arrive is tanggansi, or shredded tofu in soup. The thoroughly enticing dish of thin-sliced tangles of tofu looks like a mini mountain, floating in a lake of boiling broth, adorned with small shrimp snowflakes. It's salty and slightly umami taste is right up my street.
The next dish is sandingbao, or three-diced bun. This looks more familiar to me, seemingly just a baozi, a soft steamed bun with some sort of filling - a particular breakfast favorite of mine, I might add. But sandingbao is no ordinary baozi: stuffed with sliced pork, chicken and bamboo shoots, then steamed and served. Ye Chun's soft dough is made even softer from the use of a traditional method of fermentation, which I'm told is a trade secret.
The final dish to arrive is what I have been secretly waiting for all morning, xiehuang tangbao, or crab-roe soup dumpling. Appearing on a stout pedestal and looking more like a cocktail than a breakfast snack, it is only apt that this dish comes with a straw. Staring up at me is a large bag or pouch made of the thinnest of thin dough. Inside the delicate orb is a fresh and fragrant crab roe soup.
Now, every soup I have ever had has come in a bowl and swiftly moved, via a spoon, to my mouth or down my shirt - not in a small bag. This is where the straw comes in. By carefully piercing the skin of the dough you are able to slowly suck the delicious crab contents from within. This dish is truly a delight to behold and well worth a wait its fresh, aromatic flavor pervades the palate, leaving me with a sweet aftertaste.
After filling my belly and feeling utterly content with my delicious meal, I ascend the steps and look back down on the courtyard full of people still queuing to get a taste of what I'd just had.
As I walk to work, the morning sun crests the tops of the trees in the distance and it dawns on me why so many people wake up every day for Yangzhou's zaocha. I think I'll start getting up early more often.