You Tiao and You Zha Gui - Deep-fried Ghost

You Tiao, or You Zha Gui (deep-fried ghost), the Chinese deep-fried breadstick stuck in pairs, is such a common breakfast for hundreds of years. Often eaten with hot soya milk or plain rice porridge (some call it congee) in the morning, it is also used to complement Bak Kut Teh (pork rib in herbal soup) and all sorts of rice porridge such as chicken porridge.

What’s interesting is, the breadstick gained its intriguing name from a rather heavy and serious part of the Chinese history. During the Song Dynasty (960-1279), there was a famous and well-respected General, Yue Fei (岳飛), who had been known for his loyalty towards the kingdom and his Emperor, to the extent of getting the four words: (jing - utmost) (zhong - loyal) (bao - serve) (guo –country) meaning “serving the country with the utmost loyalty”, tattooed on his back by his equally patriotic mother. Yue Fei had fought hard to protect the kingdom, against the outer invasions particularly the Jin Dynasty (or the Kingdom of Jin: 金國).

However, the Prime Minister of the time, Qin Gui (秦檜) had unusually resented Yue Fei for some, or no reason. With the manipulative influence from his wife and to gain real power, he accused Yue Fei of a crime “Mo Xu You” (莫須有: could be or could be not guilty, but not necessarily innocent) and executed him.

Although frustrated, there was nothing the public civilians could do. To relieve his anger, a baker thought of an idea of making bread in the shape of 2 people twisted together and deep-fried it in burning hot oil. The shape was to signify Qin Gui and his wife, and this fried bread was named “You Zha Gui”, meaning deep-fried ghost, because the word ghost in Chinese is pronounced the same as “Gui” in Qin Gui’s name; and in the public’s eye, they surely were as bad as ghosts. Symbolically, they had burnt the Qin Gui couple in hot oil and eaten them up.

Through the years, You Zha Gui has been given another name as You Tiao (plainly means deep-fried breadstick), and its shape has also been much simplified to what we see today. This is however, just what we’ve learned in primary school history, and a small extract from the much more complicated Song history (which is good enough for You Tiao). To know more about the Song Dynasty and the detailed biography of Yue Fei, a library that stock academic books on Chinese history would be a good place to go.