Ever wondered why youtiaos come in pairs or why they are known as You Zhar Gui/Kueh, literally translated as oil fried ghost/pastry? Whichever the case, I’m pretty sure General Yue Fei would be the last person you would associate this crispy yet fluffy snack with. You may bevaguely familiar with the Chinese-based roots of youtiao, but you would be surprised to discover the huge rolethe General played in the invention of this widely enjoyed Chinese snack. And there you were, not thinking much of this seemingly common man’s snack whilst chomping away and dipping your youtiao in kopi, chicken chok or bak kut teh soup.
The story begins with the invasion of the Song Dynasty, resulting in lost territoriesincluding the Northern Song capital, Kaifeng.A new Southern Song capital ruled by Gaozong was then established shortly after. Having witnessed the fall of Northern Song Dynasty, patriot General Yue was determined to recover the lost territories andfree the captured emperors. However, what was unknown to him was how, in an attempt to retain power, Gaozong had, together with Qin Hui, the then Prime Minister, planned to get rid of Yue.The loyal general then found himself recalled to Hangzhou just as he was about to recover Kaifeng. Upon reaching Hangzhou, Yue was immediatelyfaced with fabricated charges and was convicted with execution. Be patient, stay with us as the plot thickens.
The injustice suffered by Yue soon reached the ears of the public where Qin Hui and his wife weresoon heavily condemned by the people for the unjustified execution of their beloved General. Having deprived of the avenues to protest, the public began to make their resentment against the couple known in other ways. As such, youtiao, the deep-frying of two joined dough sticks that each represented Qin Hui and his wife, officially made its debut as a symbol for the people’s resentment against the prime minister.
But why are the dough sticks deep-fried? It is believed that the act of deep-frying was inspired by the Buddhists’ beliefs where evil doers in hell are similarly punished by being thrown in vats of boiling oil.So these evil doers or little devils were demonized and fried into You Zhar Gui, the snack’s namethen literally translates to oil fried Hui(Qin Hui).
So the next time you’re wolfing down this the crispy yet fluffy snack, you would know that you are, indirectly, pledging allegiance to Yue Fei and denouncing injustice. On another note, a little renaming may dothe origins of youtiao some justice. General’s Youtiao, that may just work better than Mr. Youtiao.