The old saying “A rose by any other name will smell sweet” can easily be applied to Chinese donuts. The savory pastry—two golden strips of lightly salted fried dough attached to a thigh—goes by many names: you tiao in Mandarin, patongko in Thai, and nội cháo quấy in Vietnamese.
With its origins in 12th century China, this donut has become a breakfast staple throughout East and Southeast Asia. In its simplest form, it is cut in two and eaten separately as a snack. But the cruller can also be a means to experience the taste of other dishes. In Vietnam, it is dipped in sweetened coffee and spicy rice porridge. In Taiwanese restaurants, the donut accompanies warm soy milk and serves as the centerpiece of a rice-covered fountain.
As simple as a Chinese donut is, it takes skill to make it right. A high-quality yu tiao should be crispy on the outside, with light and airy pockets inside. Timing is everything. Prepare the dough, and there will be no fluff on the bread; if the oil is not hot enough, you will end up with too greasy rolls.
I grew up fortunate to have parents who are Chinese donut experts and have had the opportunity to eat hundreds of freshly fried sticks throughout my life. When I researched 20 restaurants in Los Angeles County, I discovered that not all ve tiao are created equal – and some are much better than others.
I’ve narrowed my favorites down to 10, with the focus of this list being a starting point for others to enjoy the many different ways these donuts can be consumed. Many of the best of these are found in the San Gabriel Valley and are served with other dishes. It’s time to get some carbs.