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Carolyn Tillie

Fried Dough Friday

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So, for those who don't following blogs (or who don't care to), I'll state here the fact that I have started a sort of specialty blog where I am investigating the various joys of fried dough; doughnuts, beignets, fritters, you name it... I want to blog more than the mere Krispy Kreme or Dunkin offering. I'm looking at the fact that most cultures have some form of fried dough and it is one of the more ancient forms of cooking known to man. There will be occasional media tidbits (past links include clips from The Simpsons, The Muppet Show, and Twin Peaks) and posts on versions in art and historical references. I'll include some of the more interesting finds here on a weekly basis - literally, Fried Dough Friday - starting with yesterday's visit to Chinatown with some very nice ladies who got me into the kitchen to photograph the chefs. As usual, pictures lie elsewhere:

 

Several weeks ago, my friend, Cassandra, introduced me to her friend, Sara. We were talking about my doughnut obsession and Sara, in all her exuberance, offered to show me around the joys of Chinese fried dough, something which has almost completely alluded me. We set out for Chinatown got to our first stop, Hing Lung, a bit late; it seemed that the classic pork liver-based porridge which is served with a special fried dough was already sold out for the day. But not to fear, there was still plenty for me to try.

 

The first offering was a long, slender fried dough known as youtiao (油条) — approximately 2″ thick and 9″ long. Wrapped in a steamed rice noodle, it is then known as zháliǎng (炸两). This is a classic dim sum dish, garnished with sliced scallions, sesame seeds, and served in a small puddle of sweetened soy sauce. The interior fried dough was still warm from the deep frying and crunchy, with a tender, light interior. I was somewhat anticipating the dish to be soggy, but the slightly custardy dough was not limp or too dense. The golden brown exterior had a distinct, light crunch to it and an easy tooth. The steamed rice noodle provides a savory complement along with a differing textural component. Because of the fried dough, it was rich and filling.

 

But that didn’t stop us from enjoying a separate Chinese cruller, the tánggāo (糖糕), or “sugar cake,” a sweet, fried food item similar in appearance to youtiao but shorter in length and rounder, somewhat like a football. We ate this plain, although I believe it was this version that is often served with the porridge, soy milk, or rice congee for breakfast. Still warm, they were shaped with a seam down the center and are designed to be torn in half lengthwise.

 

A little investigating revealed this parable: The Cantonese name yàuhjagwái literally means “oil-fried ghost” and, according to folklore, is an act of protest against an official who is said to have orchestrated the plot to frame the general Yue Fei, an icon of patriotism in the 1100s who fought for the Southern Song Dynasty. It is said that the food, originally took the form of two deep-fried humans and later evolved into two figures joined in the middle, representing Qin Hui and his wife who both had a hand in collaborating with the enemy to bring about the great general’s demise. The two sides of the youtiao symbolically represent the husband and the wife and their demise is affected by deep frying them and then after their death, separating them for all eternity by ripping them apart and consuming them.

 

It was a very fortunate day, Sara and Cassandra were able to get me special access to the kitchen area and photograph the station where the chefs create the dough and fry them. There is a long, flour-covered work station and trays of the dough can be seen waiting to be worked and sliced before heading to the deep fryer. Unlike the Western-style commercial fast-food deep fryers which so many McDonalds workers are accustomed to, there are no inset baskets in which the dough is placed. These men of talent carefully hold a long-handled wire strainer and extra long chopsticks to grasp and hold the dough as it is cooking. They have to be careful to not allow the dough to sink to the bottom of the cavernous vat of scalding oil. It is hot, demanding work and while appears easy, requires deft and skill. What a fabulous day to just skim the surface of Chinese fried dough. According to Sara, I’ve got a long way to go in the exploration and I can’t wait to continue.

 

 

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I think the football-shaped one you had is also commonly known as ngao lai so (or ngau lay soh or a number of other possible transliterations). It means "cow tongue pastry", and it's my favourite of the Chinese doughnuts! I can't get it very easily anymore, so whenever I see it, have to have at least one. The last time I remember having one was in Hong Kong a few years ago. :(

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This Friday is National Doughnut Day.

 

And here is some of the history (with pictures and song, if you like):

 

Tomorrow is a very important day. It is National Donut Day. Krispy Kreme and Dunkin Donuts establishments all over the country are giving away free donuts (if you like that sort of mass-produced, overly-sugared sort of thing and with Dunkin, the donut is only free with a purchase). Here in the Bay Area, I would suggest the likes of Dynamo, Pepples, or Psycho Donuts. I have no idea if any of these establishments are doing anything special to mark the day

 

Those who are more concerned with their gratuitous hunk of calories probably don’t care WHY it is National Donut Day. But I do and I think it is a pretty cool story. Well, my friends, it all goes back to the Salvation Army and World War I. In April of 1917, when America joined the war, the Salvation Army was right there to support the troops. National Commander Evangeline Booth, working with Lt. Colonel William Barker, responded to a request from the troops to “bring over some Lassies,” and Evangeline imported a total of eleven Army volunteers to Europe, including four single women. More Salvation Army volunteers followed and small hostels were established very near the American troops, often right at the front line. Many stories still exist where the women as well as men were in danger from gunfire and mustard gas.

 

It was October of 1917 when Ensigns Helen Purviance and Margaret Sheldon were assigned to the First Division at Montiers-sur-Saulx. After more than a solid month of demoralizing, deluging rain, the girls wanted to do something to lift the spirits of the downtrodden soldiers. Supplies had run out and were difficult to buy locally. The only things they could purchase were flour, sugar, lard, baking powder, cinnamon, and canned milk. “What about pancakes?” the girls debated. “No good cold, or without syrup.” “Doughnuts?” Originally, the dough was all hand-made, patted flat and fried in a shallow pan, seven at a time. The story goes that on their first attempt, the two girls, working late into the night, drew the troops with the aroma of fried goodness and served 150 handmade wonders. The requests overwhelmed them and more than double the amount of doughnuts was requested by the second day, with soldiers reminded of the flavors of home, lining up in the pouring rain for a single morsel.

 

The soldiers cheered the doughnuts and soon referred to the Salvation Army lassies as “Doughnut Girls” even when they baked apple pies or other treats. The simple doughnut became an iconographic symbol of all the good that the Salvation Army was doing to ease the hardships of the frontline fighting men. The American Expeditionary Force was nicknamed “The Doughboys” and from being viewed with an attitude of scepticism the Salvation Army soon became the most popular organisation among the troops in France.

 

The importance of the Doughnut Girls and what they did for our troops grew. War correspondents and the letters home from the soldiers told stories of many of the girls who, besides frying doughnuts, became field nurses who suffered the inflictions of the gas and were often killed alongside those boys they were there to assist. While the organization is more known today for its Santa Claus-clad volunteers ringing handbells outside of department stores during the holidays, in so many ways we have the Salvation Army to thank for American’s obsession and love of doughnuts. And the fact that they memorialized all of this in 1938 by announcing that the first Friday of June would be National Doughnut Day (or, National Donut Day, depending on how you spell it).

 

And the best treat of all – I invite you to listen to one of the original songs compliments of the technological marvel of an MP3. Written by Arthur Fields, the song Don’t Forget the Salvation Army was recorded on an Edison Blue Amberol 3796 in 1919. The sheet music cover is obviously designed after the photograph above of miss Stella Young, one of the original Doughnut Girls, clad in her Salvation Army uniform complete with helmet, with a ray of patriotic colors behind her. Here’s to you, Salvation Army, and to all the Doughnut Girls everywhere.

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