Many weekend mornings, sometimes before the sun is up, my second grader crawls into bed, flops between me and my husband, and whispers: “Shumai. Shumai, mama. And egg yolk buns.” She’s trying to sweet-talk us into a trip to HK Café, one of the east side’s Chinese dim sum mainstays. It’s home to a clattering parade of carts hawking shrimp- and pork-popping dumplings, steamy bowls of congee, platters of crisp duck, and much more.
She’s been requesting this breakfast order since she could walk. Dim sum is one of my daughter’s first food memories, a morning go-to for a pair of bleary-eyed, sleep-deprived new parents craving bite-size comfort in a loud, merry, family setting—a place where a baby’s shrieks would be met with accepting smiles rather than disapproving eye-daggers. She got older (and our orders got bigger), stuffing her face with barbecue bao while drawing pictures of goth princesses with her dad. (She swears she will get married at HK Café someday, with a wedding cake made out of those drippy-sweet egg yolk buns stacked croquembouche style. I’m into it.)
Other mornings are more rushed affairs: On school days I usually make the kid toast, slathered with Jif peanut butter and honey, tarted up with banana coins and a puff of cinnamon (a budget version of the fancy toasts we feature in our roundup of chef’s breakfast hacks). I often used Portland Public Schools’ dreaded late-start mornings as an excuse to sit next to her at the counter at old-school Cameo Café, building pyramids out of teeny creamer cups while we waited to share a plate of crispy bacon and an upsettingly large pancake.
Breakfast is funny that way. It’s the most mutable meal out there: a hurried necessity one day, a treasured ritual the next. In this issue, we celebrate both modes in our cover story, whether it’s sitting down to a plate of fancy, sprinkle-strewn pancakes at Canard, trekking to Hillsboro for biscuits and spicy gravy, ordering a to-go box of Bella’s great-grandma-channeling Italian pastries, or speeding through the SuperDeluxe drive-thru for a sausage, egg, and cheese sandwich.
Of course, I dragged my kid along while researching this breakfast opus. One morning, while wolfing Yolko Ono sandwiches at the new Fried Egg I’m in Love, we struck up a conversation with a couple with a new baby. (Bleary eyes, check. Sleep-deprived smiles, check.) “Do you take your baby a lot of places?” my daughter asked. The new mom nodded. “You should take her to dim sum for breakfast. It’s good,” my daughter declared, unasked. “And it’s loud in there. She can scream and nobody will care. Take her the places that you love and then she will love them, too.” Couldn’t have put it better myself.