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What is Youtiao?

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  • Written By: Angie Bates
  • Edited By: John Allen
  • Last Modified Date: 17 November 2016
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Youtiao, or you tiao, is the Mandarin name for a type of fried Chinese bread stick popular as a breakfast food in China. These bread sticks are made with yeast and are fried in pairs connected in the middle, resulting in a puffy bread with a crispy outside and soft inside. The bread sticks can be served whole, stuffed with meats, or cut up and put in soup.

When served as a breakfast food, particularly in northern China, youtiao is usually paired with hot soy milk, in which the bread stick is dipped. It is also often placed inside sesame flavored flat bread and eaten like a sandwich. Additionally, it may be included in rice porridge or spare-rib soup or filled with shrimp, pork, or beef.

Though homemade recipes for youtiao may suggest shorter bread stick lengths, traditionally these bread sticks are about 12–16 inches (30–40 cm) long and are usually around 1 inch (3 cm) wide. This bread is best served fresh because of its tendency to become tough or elastic if left out too long. Youtiao also contains flour, water, sugar, salt, baking soda, and vegetable oil.

In China, bread sticks are often sold in stalls by street vendors. Street vendors usually add alum — potassium aluminum sulfate crystals — to their recipes, however, in order to increase the puffy, crispy exterior of their bread. Alum should generally be avoided, however, since it often causes digestive troubles.

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Youtiao is so popular in China that in 2008 the American fast food restaurant KFC located in Beijing included it as a breakfast option. Though the price of the bread sticks were three times that of the average street vendor price, KFC made a point of advertising that their youtiao was alum free.

The original creation of youtiao dates back to beginning of the last millennium and the Song Dynasty. The corrupt leader of China, Qin Gui, supposedly on the advice of his wife, executed a loyal general, Yue Fei, who was beloved by the people. In anger and protest, a cook created a pair of breadsticks in roughly person shapes, entwining them together and deep frying them, thus symbolically boiling the leader and his wife in oil.

This origin lore is where the Cantonese name for youtiao stems from: you zha gui, literally meaning "deep fried devils" or "deep fried ghosts." Youtiao has less appealing literal translation, meaning "oil" or "grease stick" in Mandarin. The closest English comparison to youtiao is the doughnut-like cruller.

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aLFredo
Post 5

Youtiao seems like a food I would not like, as I do not like donuts much. So many people think I am strange to have a sweet tooth and not be fond of donuts, but for some reason I have not really developed the taste for them.

Youtiao seems like it would be a big hit here in America! There are donut shops on almost every corner here, so I am surprised the major chains, as far as I know, have not added this to their growing menu.

That is a cool ancient story of why the youtiao was originally made! It is horrible what the corrupt leader and his wife did to that innocent, loyal man. I do not think I would want to eat something I associated with evil people (or nice people, or people in general) though, but I do get the point was probably more in the frying "them" than the eating "them" part.

Mykol
Post 4

When I was visiting China this was my first experience with eating youtiao. I quickly found out how popular it is and saw it everywhere I went.

When I got back home, I wanted to try making some myself. I got online and found a few different youtiao recipes I could try.

There didn't seem to be much variation in how they were made. It seems like I had better results searching for Chinese cruller recipes than I did for youtiao recipes.

I am not a big fan of soy milk, so I like to dip mine in warm almond milk. This has made them even more delicious for me since I love the taste of almond milk.

burcinc
Post 3

@turquoise-- I know what you mean! I'm from Cambodia and it's the same there! I think the only difference is that our you tiao are much smaller in size than the you tiao in China. I love dipping it in cold soybean milk in the summertime and in hot soybean milk in wintertime.

I also love having it in soup and hot pot dishes. If you're worrying about it being unhealthy, this is a great way to have it because the meat, veggies and broth in the hot pot will makeup for the oil in you tiao.

turquoise
Post 2

When I was in China, I had also gotten into the habit of picking up some youtiao on the way to work. It's so good when it's still hot and very addicting!

If you enjoy doughnuts at all, you will go crazy over youtiao. I love having them with some coffee and they are extremely good with some powdered sugar. It's the perfect breakfast if you ask me. It's not very healthy, but it's just what you need on a rainy morning.

I'm back in the US now and I miss having youtiao so much! I might plan a trip soon just so I can have some again.

candyquilt
Post 1

This sounds a lot like the Asian braided doughnuts I made recently, except that it's not as puffy as youtiao. It does basically have the same ingredients and it's one of my favorite snacks. I first had them at an Asian buffet and loved it. I've been making them at home ever since. Youtiao sounds like it would be even more delicious. I love puffy fried snacks.

The story about how youtiao was found is very interesting as well. I saw some pictures of youtiao while looking for recipes and some of them really did look like two people connected together. It's so interesting how a cook's emotions helped him discover such a popular and delicious food.

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