Yóu tiáo 油条 are nothing more than deep-fried twists of bread, salted and crisp. They are almost exclusively a breakfast food, like jian bing, and are usually eaten with congee (zhōu) or with a bowl of steaming sweetened soy milk.
The vendors get started at around 5am and are still making them way past eleven, for all the late-risers. It’s so commonplace to see someone in pyjamas and flip-flops walking back home with a plastic bag filled with three or four you tiao sticking out of it, for the family breakfast.
Yóu tiáo are fantastic when pulled fresh from the deep-fryer. The foot-long bread can be separated into two side-by-side pieces, with a crisp, almost waffle-like exterior, and a light and chewy interior. Like all fried things, the flavour depends entirely on the quality of oil being used and the freshness. Best consumed within ten minutes of cooking, otherwise they become very tough and rubbery.
The yóu tiáo are made from yeast dough, rolled flat, then cut into short narrow strips. Each strip is placed on top of a second, then pressed lightly together lengthways to make the join that can later be pulled apart after cooking. The baker then deftly twists and stretches them until they are the right length, and lays them side by side in the deep fryer until they are golden brown and nicely crisp. Just drop your money into the ‘cash register’ on the counter (one kuai each, about 16 cents) and your take-away breakfast is good to go.
Enjoyed that? We’re already up to Number 11 in this series on delicious and cheap Shanghai Street Foods. Here are links to the others, if you’re feeling peckish. Everyone especially likes the noodles at Number 4, and the steamed buns at Number 6.
Number 3 Liangpi – a spicy cold noodle dish
Number 4 Langzhou Lamian – hand-pulled noodles
Number 5 Cong You Bing – fried shallot pancakes
Number 6 Baozi – steamed buns, Shanghai style
Number 7 Jian Bing – the famous egg pancake
Number 14 Bao Mi Hua – exploding rice flowers
Number 16 Bing Tang Shan Zha – crystal sugar hawthorns
Number 21 Suzhou Shi Yue Bing – homestyle mooncakes
Number 22 Gui Hua Lian’ou – honeyed lotus root stuffed with sticky rice
Number 23 Cong You Ban Mian – scallion oil noodles
Number 25 Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes
Number 26 Da Bing, Shao Bing – sesame breakfast pastries
Number 27 Ci Fan – sticky rice breakfast balls
Number 28 Gui Hua Gao – steamed osmanthus cake
Number 29 Zongzi – bamboo leaf wrapped sticky rice