What is this Asian food?
February 18, 2012 8:59 AM   Subscribe

What is this mysterious thing I bought in an Asian grocery?

I found them in the refrigerated section, two to a bag, no label. The grocery I frequent typically drives into Manhattan's China Town on Thursday nights and if you go in early on Friday, there's a bunch of fresh stuff, meat, produce, including some unusual bakery. That's what I thought this was, some kind of fried bread, but refrigeration doesn't make sense for fried bakery. You wouldn't refrigerate a donut, right? I brought it up to the counter and asked if it was fried bread and the lady nodded, but she may have just been being polite. I asked if it was sweet, and she said "No. Maybe, little bit."

Well now I've tried it and it does not seem like bread to me. And if it's a "little bit" sweet, it's a real microscopic sweetness. I didn't hate it, but it's not delicious or anything. I warmed it in the microwave and it didn't improve the experience. I didn't eat much.

So what did I eat? I have a sneaky suspicion that it's an organ of some sort, but I have no idea which. Do you know this Asian food product? Here's the inside. Another.
posted by Toekneesan to Food & Drink (15 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: I should add that whatever it is, I think it was fried. I just don't know what was fried.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:00 AM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: It's you tiao ("oil stick", or often called in English "Chinese donut")! Don't worry, it's not an organ at all. It is indeed fried dough. You can try crisping it up in a toaster oven to make it tasty, or thin slices in congee is how it's typically eaten (in my family at least). I have no idea why it was kept in the fridge - it probably wasn't fresh, which is why it wasn't all that tasty.
posted by daelin at 9:04 AM on February 18, 2012 [8 favorites]

It's not an organ, it's a cruller--you tiao.
posted by Ideefixe at 9:05 AM on February 18, 2012

It's a Chinese doughnut: youtiao
posted by purpleclover at 9:05 AM on February 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Wow, oil stick is accurate. Dang, that was fast. Thanks! I'm going to try the toaster oven and see if it helps. Maybe I'll give congee a try, too.
posted by Toekneesan at 9:10 AM on February 18, 2012

It's also not meant to be sweet, it's meant to be on the salty/savory end of the spectrum. And is usually paired with things of a similar nature.
posted by Mercaptan at 9:12 AM on February 18, 2012

Response by poster: Can anyone explain the unusual shape? It seem related to how it's made, but I'm not clear on how it was made. In these parts, fried dough is usually produced by pouring a thin batter into hot oil using a funnel—aka funnel cakes. Are these produced in a similar way?
posted by Toekneesan at 9:23 AM on February 18, 2012

How to video
posted by Ideefixe at 9:29 AM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: They're made in a similar fashion to churros, if you've ever encountered those. This is definitely closer to bread dough than funnel cake batter. Imagine a long, fat, dough rope being extruded into hot oil like Playdoh and you'll get the picture. I'm sorry that it wasn't that tasty, because good fresh youtiao with congee can be really good, but maybe the toaster oven will help things!
posted by Diagonalize at 9:39 AM on February 18, 2012

If you have it, youtiao with fresh soymilk is the breakfast of champions
posted by Geppp at 9:41 AM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I'm living in China and I've even seem these sold individually and also (more commonly) rolled up in a "chinese" sandwich pancake called Dan Bing. Usually the pancake is made of dough and egg spread on a hot flat stone. Ingredients added are anything from sprouts, fried egg, little piece of meat, hotdogs, lettuce, rice sticks, and of course these oil sticks! Might be worth checking out, dan bing is pretty tasty for breakfast.. at least the ones that seem to use fresh ingredients. I never found much enjoyment from the oil sticks either except for adding a type of texture to whatever I was eating.

posted by melizabeth at 9:46 AM on February 18, 2012

Best answer: Can anyone explain the unusual shape?

The shape is historical.

And what Gepp said, awesome with fresh soymilk. But don't even think it with the "soymilk" found in the dairy section of the grocery store in the US, that would be nasty.
posted by Runes at 9:57 AM on February 18, 2012

Response by poster: Okay, the problem was the refrigeration combined with the microwave.

I bake a lot, so my oven rack is lined with clay tile. I heated the oven to 450F on broil and put one on the clay tile. Took it out about 5 minutes later and it was crispy and toasty. I've had a pot of congee simmering on the wood stove all day. The smooth porridge with the toasty crunch is a delightful combination. Because I'm actually a 75 year old Korean woman who only looks like a 48 year old white guy, I poured all kinds of chili all over it, and then wiped sweat from my face while I happily crunched it down. I'm still trippin' on the endorphins.

Thanks for the help, and for steering me to a better use of the mysterious fried things that I bought in near total ignorance. Now I must find fresh soy milk. I bet the hippy grocery has some.

posted by Toekneesan at 4:44 PM on February 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

If you can get unsweetened soy milk, try to go for that and heat it up. Dribble (red) chili oil in it if you like the heat.
posted by porpoise at 4:57 PM on February 18, 2012

If you can get your hands on some freshly fried ones, they are sooo much better. I grew up having it for breakfast (along with sweet soymilk).
posted by fallsauce at 4:40 AM on February 19, 2012

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