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Xueci Cheng

Associate Food Editor at Kitchen Stories

instagram.com/scharf.xueci/

This article is part of our monthly issue “#ThrowbackNovember,” in which we’ll explore various aspects of childhood memory through the lens of food. We’ll share fun recipes that riff on those memories and a slew of fantastic videos featuring our team in hopes that you’ll watch, share, and comment on with your own nostalgia-filled takes. Check out this link to find an overview of all our weekly topics, stories, recipes, and more.

A flashback: sitting at a cramped breakfast stall with my parents, sharing the table with strangers. Fried dough sticks arrive fresh to our table and are served with a bowl of steaming soy milk. My fingers tingle with the deep-fried heat when I tear one into pieces. I dunk the crispy, but fluffy dough in the soy milk, but not too long that it gets soggy. On weekends, we would take them away: hot soy milk in plastic bags, not a good idea, in hindsight.

Youtiao are deep fried dough sticks, kind of like a long donut, that are widely eaten in China as well as other parts of Asia. They unite a breakfast table of diverse regional cuisines and even made it onto the local KFC menu. Years later when I saw chic French people dipping their croissants in coffee, it somehow reminded me of those noisy, steaming-hot chinese breakfast rush hours—even if they’re literal worlds away from your laid-back French cafe. I seem to be gaining a reputation for Chinese-French comparisons here.

In fact, we never made Youtiao at home. My parents, who are underqualified homecooks, were not into deep-frying or baking. Part of the reason was that breakfast food, like in many other places, was always easily accessible outside. Plus there was the old-fashioned joy of starting our day with somewhere and something that was tried and trusted. Although in later years, traditional breakfast like youtiao and rice noodles were said to be unhealthy, lazy as we were, we still went out and got them, though sometimes we’d have an extra egg as nutritional compensation.

Two decades later, after five years in Germany, I’ve switched to oatmeal and the many kinds of German pretzel bakes. But I still crave dipping my youtiao in soy milk. Unlike my parents, I tried it at home and turns out, it’s not so hard after all: A bit of baking powder (the magic to get it fluffy), flour, and milk. While testing it in the test kitchen, the smell itself transported me back to those morning dining hours back home.

Youtiao (Chinese fried dough sticks)

Youtiao (Chinese fried dough sticks)

→ Go to recipe

Once you have your fluffy, golden youtiao, you can use them in other recipes:
- Top it on congee or rice noodle soup
- Stir-fry it with meat like sweet sour chicken
- Roll it in Jianbing, glutinous rice rolls, or Cantonese steamed rice rolls
Or, just dip them straight in soy milk!

What’s your favorite breakfast food from childhood? Let us know in the comments.

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