Love Me, Love My Youtiao
Sometimes breakfast is the breaking point
When I broke up with my boyfriend, I took solace in a Taiwanese breakfast delight known as youtiao. These fried crullers are voluminous, puffed batons of salty pleasure and are best sandwiched in a crispy, sesame-dotted flatbread called shaobing. I stuffed my mouth with two of these bad boys while my tears streamed into a bowl of sweet soybean milk. In retrospect, I should have ordered the salty soybean milk instead to mask the taste of my tears.
It's strange that I would turn to these giant bats of fried dough in my time of need as they were the first glaring sign of the impending doom of our relationship. Maybe I subconsciously imagined using one as a weapon and smashing it over his head?
I was so excited the first time I took my then-boyfriend Mike to a traditional Taiwanese breakfast. Like most Taiwanese people, I think we have the most delicious food in the world. I just knew that he would love it, even though he was a simple all-American meat and potatoes kind of guy.
I’m no dummy. I wasn’t going to start him off with Taiwanese delicacies such as thousand-year-old eggs and stinky tofu for his first introduction to my country’s fine cuisine. I realized that he might never come to learn to love these acquired tastes, though a girl can dream. I mean, how would he ever get past the deeply pervasive smell of rotten garbage emanating from stinky tofu to enjoy the fine crunch of the exterior and the ultimate reward of the creamy, custard-like tofu inside? Could he get over the jelled black exterior of the thousand-year-old egg and the fact that it’s rolled in mud and buried underground for five weeks like a rotting corpse?
No, I planned to impress him with much more easily digestible Taiwanese breakfast items such as youtiao, beef rolls, and dan bings.
Everyone—I mean everyone—likes Taiwanese beef rolls. Also known as Taiwanese burritos, they feature meltingly soft beef blanketed in a flaky, chewy scallion pancake. They are the ultimate comfort food and hangover cure. Beef rolls are sweet, savory, and fried all at once. It’s kind of akin to the genius pairing of chicken and waffles. With scallions and fresh cilantro topping it off, it's like spring in your mouth and tastes nothing like a Chipotle burrito circa 2018, thank god.
Dan bing is also a Taiwanese food superstar, beautiful in its simplicity. Some call it a Taiwanese egg crepe as its also usually prepared on a steaming hot griddle. First, an onion-dotted batter is poured to form a fine crepe which is finished off with an egg. Before serving, it’s rolled up like a French omelet. My ex loved eggs and omelets, dan bings should have been a no-brainer.
However after I proudly ordered a giant spread of my favorite Taiwanese breakfast foods for him, I could tell that he was not impressed. I didn’t know yet that there was no future for us, but this was definitely the first sign. How could an adventurous, open-minded food lover as myself date someone with such a limited palate?
This may seem to be a minor issue for most people. I mean, we got along, he wasn’t abusive, and he loved cats. In fact, when I confessed my frustration about his non-refined taste buds to a friend, she exclaimed, “Is this really an issue?” I realize these are first-world, bourgeois concerns but I derive great pleasure in cooking for my loved ones. I enjoy whipping up traditional American classics like crispy fried chicken and planked meatloafs shellacked in a ketchup and brown sugar glaze, but I also want to share traditional Asian dishes such as kimchi and fatty minced pork on rice. For the duration of that four-year relationship, I was limited to cooking burgers, steaks, and pasta, the only foods that he enjoyed. After I imagined a lifetime of cooking banality, I realized that the relationship had run its course.
I’m dating a new guy now. His taste buds need some work for sure but at least he enjoys beef rolls and youtiao.