Drinks and Snacks of China - Steamed Bread, Noodles

Steamed Bread (Mantou)

To Westerners, the Chinese people are thought of as rice-eaters, while this is true in the south of China, most northerners prefer food made of wheat flour, and mantou is the most popular form of such food. It is a form of bread that is cooked by steaming.  It is often referred to as "steamed bread".

There is an interesting legend about the origin of mantou. It was first made, so the legend goes, by order of Zhuge Liang, a famous statesman and chief minister of the State of Shu during the Three Kingdoms Period (220-280 AD). On an expedition to conquer the cave-dwelling South­ern Man barbarians who had often attacked his state, he came to the bank of the Lushui River at the head of a big army. Someone told him that the river was poi­sonous and treacherous and that human lives would be lost in crossing unless the tyrannical River god was appeased. The man said that the way to do this was to offer him mantou (heads of the captured barbarians) as human sacrifices.  Zhuge Liang was a kind-hearted man, so he ordered his army to use "heads" (tou) made of dough instead of real human ones, to save lives.

Deep-Fried Dough Sticks and Dougi Cakes (Youtiao & Youbing)

These are popular snacks that Chinese people like to eat for breakfast. The residents of southern China traditionally eat Dough Sticks, while the northerners prefer Dough Cakes. They can be eaten plain or dipped into soup, or a bowl of noodles. Their preparation is rather simple. A simple dough is made which is allowed to rise. The dough is then cut into finger-sized lengths. Every two pieces are picked up together, stretched with the hands into 20-cm sticks, and, twisted together. The twisted sticks are then deep-fried in oil, and then ready to eat. The cakes are cooked in a similar way except that the dough is not cut into long pieces but into cubes, which are rolled into thin cakes before deep-frying.

The deep-fried dough cake dates back to the Tang Dynasty (618-907 AD), while the twisted sticks first appeared in today's Jiangsu province in the Southern Song Dynasty (1127-1279). There is a legend that tells of their origins. In 1142, Yue Fei, a famous national hero in ancient China, was framed by the traitorous prime minister Qin Hui and his wife and executed at Fengbo Pavilion. The local people were making fried cakes when they heard the news. In their indigna­tion they picked up some dough, shaped it into figures representing Qin Hui and his wife, and twisting the two together, fried them in hot oil to vent their anger. That was the beginning of these deep-fried sticks.  In many parts of China is it often called "Youzha Gui" (Oil filled Gui, a variant of the name Hui). 

Steamed Corn Bread (Wotou)

Wotou is a staple food in many northern regions of China. Made of corn flour, it is shaped into a cone hollow, rather like an inverted wo (bird's nest), hence its name. Wotou used to be the cheap coarse food eaten by the poor, but a kind of miniature Wotou was served by the Imperial Kitchens in Beijing during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).  This may not seem to make sense, but there is a legend of why this simple peasant dish was served to royalty.  

In 1900 when China was invaded by the troops of the 8 allied powers, Empress Dowager Cixi fled Beijing with Emperor GuangXu to Xian.  Since they left in great haste, and under great secrecy, they did not have time to pack food for their long journey.  Along the way, the Emperor and Empress Dowager were practically starving.  On the way, the Empress Dowager was offered a piece of Wotou, and being extremely hungry, she gladly accepted it and ate it with great relish.  Upon returning to Beijing, she told the Imperial Kitchen to make Wotou for her.  The chef did create Wotou for her but used the finest and most refined ingredients he could find and added many ingredients to make the Wotou tastier.  It became a common item on the Imperial menu.

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