Man on the Street: Chinese Breakfast Vendor

By Tristin Zhang, November 17, 2016

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Man on the Street is a regular series where we talk to someone doing an everyday job, in order to gain insight into the lives of normal Chinese people.

It is a typical, drizzling morning in October. Zhang Yin and her husband roll their cart, equipped with a metal steamer, to their regular selling post on Shatai Lu and start their morning routine: selling porridge, buns and other morning repast. How long have they performed this routine? “Let’s count. Hmm,” Zhang ponders, “we have been doing this for over a year and a half.”

The couple, hailing from Maoming City in the west of Guangdong, wakes up every day at about 4am to cook various kinds of porridge and make soybean milk, while buns, youtiao (Chinese crullers) and dumplings are readied at night.

“I remember when we first started last summer, the business was pathetically bad, because less people eat porridge during that time of the year, and also we were new in the neighborhood. We hardly made 50 kuai every day,” Zhang recalls, ladling out some black turtle bean porridge into a plastic bowl, before her husband ties it up with a plastic bag.

“My husband was a business man in the hardware industry and owned a store in the Tianping Decoration Market. Some years ago he shut it down due to high rent and bad business,” Zhang continues, explaining how they got into the street food business.

Zhang and her husband have thought about leaving Guangzhou for a fresh start back home, but for now they don’t want to disrupt their daughter’s education. “She is one of the best in her grade,” says Zhang proudly, revealing the primary motivation for undertaking their current employment.

READ MORE: Man on the Street: Chaozhou Fruit Seller

There are approximately four businesses of the breakfast-selling kind on the same street, and Zhang’s locale is far from being dominant. “We didn’t make porridges at first, because they require a tremendous amount of time in the morning. If you make them at night, the good taste won’t last till morning,” says Zhang’s husband as he picks up two tea eggs, a youtiao and two buns and bundles them up for a hurrying customer. Now, they cook about seven kinds of porridge, the decent flavors of which have attracted many a returning customer.

“We usually finish after 11am. We are considering selling something else for lunch, like changfen, to add to our income, you know?” Zhang says, adding that she wishes her and her spouse could make as much money as in their previous line of work.

In half an hour there are about 10 people getting their morning meal from Zhang, who bids us goodbye as we leave with a big bowl of steaming black turtle bean porridge.


Monthly salary: RMB3,500-5,000
Days per week:
Hours per day: 5

To read more Man on the Street click here.

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