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Wuhan's Breakfast Tradition Is Back As Coronavirus Lockdown Ends

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

Seventy-six days of lockdown - that's what the Chinese city of Wuhan endured until Wednesday, when its borders opened up again. There are still restrictions on movement in the city to prevent a second wave of coronavirus infections. But as NPR's Emily Feng reports from there, life is slowly returning to a city once battered by an outbreak.

EMILY FENG, BYLINE: For more than two months, these Wuhan alleys were silent, as a deadly new virus infected more than 50,000 people in this one city alone. Now China says it has the outbreak under control. Residents here are skeptical. But they also are venturing out, hoping to finally regain some normalcy.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIZZLING)

FENG: This is the sound of doupi frying, a layering of bean powder and meat. It's one of the signature dishes of guozao, or passing the morning, the term used in one for eating a medley of morning snacks. Wuhan's beloved guozao vendors are slowly reopening. Most only do takeout. Others haven't been allowed outdoor seating, but they're back.

You can guozao standing up, sitting down, squatting on the sidewalk or even on your scooter, which is where I find Chen Guodong. He's precariously balanced a cup of soy milk and wontons and soup in his scooter basket while he munches on mianwo, a kind of rice doughnut.

CHEN GUODONG: (Speaking non-English language).

FENG: Chen says he comes here every morning now out of habit. He came today on the way to the grocery store. By far, the most well-known of guozao treats is Wuhan's reganmian, or hot, dry noodle, noodles tossed with just enough sesame oil, soy sauce and some tart pickles, served hot as early as 6 a.m. here.

(CROSSTALK)

FENG: The vendors at this restaurant, Xu Tang Shi Reganmian, rapidly toss a variety of sauces into freshly heated noodles. A serving costs 5 yuan or less than 80 cents. The day after Wuhan's lockdown is lifted, a line of their customers - some wearing their pajamas, others wearing medical protective suits - stretches down the sidewalk. Everyone is spaced 1 meter apart, a habit no one needs to be asked to do now in this city.

HAN: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: The noodles here are just far better, says 63-year-old Mr. Han, who expertly slurps a paper bowl of reganmian, facemask askew. He didn't want to give his full name to a foreign reporter.

(SOUNDBITE OF SLURPING)

HAN: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: Xu Tang is not a famous restaurant, but the flavor is good, says Mr. Han. Plus, he's come here for years.

Mr. Li stands on the curb with his favorite guozao dishes. He also didn't want to give his full name. He's a bit of a contrarian in savory-obsessed China when it comes to breakfast tastes.

LI: Non-English language spoken).

FENG: I only eat the sweet dishes for breakfast, he says. Anything else, I can't keep down. Today, Mr. Li has bought a bowl of danjiu (ph), or egg soup with sweet, fragrant, fermented rice. An upside to guozao - it can be eaten on the go, as well. So it's perfect for the scooter delivery men that have kept the city under quarantine fed for the last few weeks. This delivery driver pulls up to the restaurant, runs to the window and downs a bowl of noodles.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: "Think of guozao this way," he says in between gulps. The Cantonese have dim sum. And the Wuhanese have guozao. He's in such a rush, he doesn't give his name.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Non-English language spoken).

FENG: "Guozao can be a relaxing activity, yes. But for those who are working, it's a meal of convenience," he says. Then he zooms off to make his next food delivery to someone who either can't leave their house yet or are still too nervous to do so. Emily Feng, NPR News, Wuhan, China. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.