By Peter Trinh of Peter Trinh Film
The Chinese Fried Breadstick, or youtiao in Chinese, is the MVP of Chinese breakfast. Besides the fact that it tastes amazing, it might be the most versatile item served for breakfast in Chinese restaurants.
Yes, you read that right. This ain’t no Olive Garden breakstick.
Here’s the skinny (or not so skinny, depending on how you look at it). The breadstick is a long golden-brown deep-fried strip of dough that originated in China, and is eaten in many other East and Southeast Asian cuisines.
How To Eat Youtiao
Of the many ways to eat it, it is most commonly used to dip into congee (rice porridge), stuff with minced pork, wrap in dough or, my personal favorite, unaccompanied in its fresh, golden brown glory.
Even though it’s a common food in restaurants and all over the streets of Hong Kong, China, Vietnam, Taiwan, and in many Chinese restaurants here, it’s still relatively unknown in the landscape of Chinese food in America.
Besides its Chinese name, you’ll sometimes see it on menus in America being called “Chinese cruller,” “Chinese oil stick” or “Chinese doughnut”. Whatever you call it, just please do not call it a Chinese churro.
The Cantonese name literally means “oil-fried devil,” and, according to mythology, the dish was created to rebel against Qin Hui, an infamous figure in Chinese history who was considered a traitor. Originally, the breakstick was shaped like two people joined in the middle, representing Qin Hui and his wife, both having a hand in collaborating with the enemy to bring about the great general’s demise.
Thus the youtiao is deep fried and eaten as if done to the traitorous couple. In keeping with the legend, youtiao nowadays are typically served as two foot-long rolls of dough joined along the middle, with one roll representing the husband and the other the wife.
Yes, pretty dark stuff.
My Chinese Traditions
Growing up in a traditional Chinese family, we used to always go out for breakfast on the weekends, whether it was dim sum, noodle soup or congee. No matter what, my dad would order a plate of fried breadsticks a la carte. Being the picky eater I was as a kid, I would skip the noodle soup and eat the entire plate of fried starchy goodness by myself.
Even if my parents forced me to eat my congee — which I hated — the fried breadstick that accompanied it made it way more palatable. While other kids wanted ice cream or cupcakes to accompany their meals, I just wanted youtiao.
A Proper Youtiao
When served fresh, the breadstick should have the slightest greasy shine, with an understated crispy exterior and fluffy inside, similar to that of a classic glazed donut. The difference between the Chinese breadstick and a churro or American donut is that the Chinese version is not sweet.
Instead, the focus is on the taste of the fresh dough, the balance of salt and sugar, and the pulled texture. Another major bonus: a side of youtiao — which can be shared between two people — usually costs only $2-$3.
Going Back To My Roots
As I got older, and weekend lunches with my parents became less common, I stopped eating youtiao as much. Honestly, I kind of forgot about it for a while; but it wasn’t because I didn’t find it delicious anymore. Often when we leave home, we stay away from the foods we were raised on, just out of rebellion or practice of freedom.
It’s kind of like saying “Hey, I’m an adult now. I can have my dessert before dinner!”
In that same fashion, there was a time in my life where I said “I’m not eating Chinese food anymore, that’s what my parents would want me to eat!”
It’s funny how growth has a way of bringing you back to your childhood, and more importantly, your heritage. In recent years, I find myself seeking out authentic Chinese dishes that bring back memories of my childhood, with an appreciation that I never had before.
The landscape of Asian food in America has changed a lot since I was a kid. Hipsters and foodies try all kinds of Chinese food, and there are fusion restaurants everywhere. I’ve gone from being raised on Chinese food to not eating it out of rebellion, and now eating Chinese food is cool in the mainstream for millennials.
Although the myriad of choices for Chinese and other Asian food are paralyzing, it’s the restaurants still serving authentic dishes that are the best.
You can also make these delicious breadsticks at home using the following recipe from the author’s family:
- 2 cups all purpose flour
- 2 teaspoon baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- 1 cup water
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- ½ teaspoon salt
- oil for deep-frying
Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl.
Knead dough together for 5 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball shape. Cover and refrigerate from 2 hours to overnight.
Remove dough from refrigerator and let it reach room temperature.
Heat oil to around 400 degree F.
Spread flour on a cutting board and roll the dough thin, into a rectangular shape. The rectangle should allow for 6-inch strips to be cut.
Cut strips of about 1-inch wide and 6-inches long.
Dip a skewer in water, dab the wet skewer in the center of the dough strip. Place another strip of dough on top, and then gently press down into the center of the dough with the skewer so that the strips stick together to form one single strip for frying.
Carefully place the strip into the hot oil and roll with chopsticks so it expands evenly. The breadstick will expand and float to the top. Once the breadstick is reaches a golden brown color, remove it from the oil and drain on paper towels.
Eat with congee, as a side to noodle soup, or all by itself.
About The Author
Peter Trinh is a writer and filmmaker based in Seattle. When he’s not busy searching for the perfect bowl of noodles, Peter explores culture and identity through his writing, photography and filmmaking. Check out more at www.petertrinh.com or follow him on Instagram @thepetertrinh.
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