Monday, November 4, 2013

The One That Started It All

There it is: 油糍 (Yóu Cí). Believe it or not, this humble trifle of a snack is the street food that started it all for me. Although there are regional variations of yóu cí available in a few different provinces in China, the one I'd like to focus on can be found in Jiujiang (Jiangxi Province). Not many tourists pass through Jiujiang. The ones that do are usually only stopping by on their way to Lushan, the nearby mountain and UNESCO World Heritage Site. For me, though, Jiujiang is my Chinese home. It is where I lived and worked for a year, and it is the first city in China that I really fell in love with.

I had been living in Jiujiang for a few months when I stumbled across a vendor selling these fried mystery pucks. I had never seen them before, and they beckoned to me. One taste was all it took: I was hooked. I had, of course, eaten street food before, but this is the one that turned it from a general interest in the street food scene to a passion. It was bound to happen eventually—it just worked out that this little ball of flavor was the mouth-watering catalyst. So what is it? Yóu cí is made of a gooey batter consisting mainly of crushed glutinous rice, water, tofu, scallions, salt, and maybe a dash of sliced chili pepper. Globs of this batter are deep fried in a shallow cylindrical mold until they are golden brown and lightly crispy on the outside. The final product glistens with residual oil, signaling its intentions to be deliciously unhealthy. Within the oily shell, spongy glutinous rice and silky tofu compete for space, and we all win.


Biting into a yóu cí is like sinking your teeth into a greasy pillow of pure joy. Not one of those brand new fluffy feather pillows that are mostly just air, but a denser, worn-in pillow that has already conformed to the shape of your head. The flavor is just what you would expect from this sort of street snack: salty and savory. Nothing complex or fancy; just humble deliciousness. Two or three bites and it is gone. Maybe it isn’t anything special when compared with some of China’s greatest street foods, but to my mind it epitomizes the very best of the street food culture in China. It’s quick, cheap, portable, and oh-so-tasty. As I said above, not many tourists pass through Jiujiang. Those who do, though, will enjoy seeking out this hidden gem.


Hannah said...

These look amazing!

Frank Kasell said...

They taste it, too!

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