Soymilk and you tiao, the most popular breakfast in China

March 31, 2011 | Posted by Elisa

With thousands of years of tradition, you tiao and soymilk, above, are perhaps the most popular breakfast meal in China.

On the streets of any Chinese city early in the morning, you'll see all kinds of foods served as breakfast in stores or vendor's stands. Today let's take a look at one of the most popular Chinese breakfasts, soy milk and the Chinese yóu tiáo (油条), which is a twisted cruller or type of doughnut.

One of the most famous foods around, soy milk is made from soy beans. Chinese people began to drink soy milk about 1,900 years ago during the Eastern Han Dynasty. Chinese tradition believes the ancient prince Liu An first discovered soy milk by soaking and grounding soy beans and then filtering out the thick liquid, which he hoped would cure his mother's sickness. Although soy milk is not used for medical purpose, it is proven that soy milk is a very healthy kind of drink. Soy milk has about the same amount of protein as cow's milk but unlike cow's milk, it has little saturated fat and no cholesterol.

Street vendors sell you tiao to passers-by in the early morning, above.

If soy milk is the Chinese breakfast drink of choice, the you tiao is its matching food of choice. Closely resembling a twisted cruller doughnut, the you tiao has a rich tradition in Chinese culture. According to legend, in the Song Dynasty (960 - 1279) there was a traitor named Qin Hui who orchestrated a plot to frame a celebrated and patriotic general named Yue Fei. Together with his wife, Qin Hui succeeded in having false treason charges brought against the general, who was executed in prison. The story says that grieving and angry people made two human-shaped pieces of dough -- representing Qin Hui and his wife -- and fried it in boiling oil, calling it "Fried Hui." Later this kind of food evolved into two pieces of dough joined along in the middle, which is how you tiao looks today.

In the hustle and bustle of life in big cities, people usually buy soymilk and you tiao directly from grocery stores or vendors beside the street. But there are also many people who make soymilk by themselves using a soymilk machine which grounds soaked soy beans, filters the liquid, and boils it. You tiao, on the other hand, is not as easy to make for most people. However, you tiao may be found on the breakfast menus of restaurants throughout China, especially in northern China. So if you have a chance to visit China, don't forget to try the most popular Chinese breakfast, soy milk and you tiao.

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