Hot chocolate might turn up at an American breakfast, but hot soybean milk is the drink of preference where northern Chinese congregate, be it Taipei, Hong Kong or Monterey Park. Only the soy milk is not served as a drink but as a soup to be sipped from a porcelain Chinese spoon. There are two styles: sweet and salty. The salty version contains savory ingredients such as green onion and preserved radish, and the sweet style contains only sugar.
The mandatory accompaniment to this nutritious dish is yu t'iao, a Chinese cruller that looks like two long sticks of dough stuck together. A book from Taipei, "Recipe Treasures of China: Taiwan's Gourmet Delights," tells an interesting story about yu t'iao. It seems that some 800 years ago, a government minister, Chin Kuei, fabricated a charge that led to the execution of a popular field commander, Yueh Fei. This so enraged the people that they developed a way to knead and fold dough so that when fried it resembled two bodies, representing Chin Kuei and his wife. Eating the double cruller thus became a gustatory protest.
Although once linked to anger, yu t'iao and its accompanying soy milk are in actuality a soothing start to the day. One place to try this combination is Yi-Mei, a Monterey Park bakery that has a few tables in addition to its large display of Chinese pastries. If you want to reproduce this breakfast at home, you can find the soy milk in Chinese groceries and buy yu t'iao at bakeries such as Yi-Mei that specialize in Mandarin style breads and cakes. A few slices of the cruller are stirred into the hot milk in a northern Chinese interpretation of the crouton. And if you want to expand the breakfast Taipei style, add an egg and a flaky, sesame-seed-sprinkled bun called shao bing. The buns are available at most large Chinese groceries.
Yi-Mei Bakery, 736 S. Atlantic Blvd., Monterey Park; (818) 284-9306. Open 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. daily.
HOT SOYBEAN MILK
1 1/2 cups unsweetened soybean milk
2 tablespoons chopped green onions
1 tablespoon chopped preserved radish
1 teaspoon soy sauce
1/4 teaspoon sesame oil
5 (1/2-inch-thick) slices yu t'iao (Chinese cruller)
Heat soybean milk in saucepan. Add green onions, radish, soy sauce and sesame oil. Taste and adjust seasonings if necessary. Turn into individual serving bowl and add yu t'iao slices. Makes 1 serving.
For sweet soybean milk, heat milk without seasonings and stir in sugar to taste.