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History of Youtiao & Why I Only Call it You Cha Kway or Yau Cha Kwai


When I was a child in primary (elementary) school in 1960s Singapore, I remember my teacher told us about the legend behind you cha kway 油炸粿. It scared me a little when I was small.

I cannot remember much except that you cha kway got its name from an ancient Chinese story about a pair of husband and wife traitors who were punished by throwing them in boiling oil 😱

So, though I always refer to Chinese deep fried crullers as you cha kway, I never quite knew the details of its history.

Then recently, I noticed that the name you cha kway is less used and is replaced by the Mandarin name youtiao 油条. Over time, the story of you cha kway is fading away and may soon be forgotten.

So, I decided to find out more about the story of you cha kway.

Yue Fei. Image credit: Wikipedia

During the Southern Song dynasty (1127 - 1279), there was a loyal general Yue Fei 岳飛 (1103 - 1142) who led many successful battles for emperor Gaozong. When nearly victorious in the decisive battle against the arch enemy Jin dynasty, Prime Minister 秦檜 Chin Hui (who was a traitor secretly working for the enemy) instigated the emperor to pull back his troops and recall Yue Fei.

The foolish emperor fell for Prime Minister 秦檜's ruse and ordered Yue Fei to return to the palace immediately. The traitor Chin Hui thus succeeded in preventing Yue Fei from defeating the enemy.

When Yue Fei arrived at the palace, the foolish emperor Gaozong executed him for charges trumped up by 秦檜.

Song emperor Gaozong. Image credit: Wikipedia

In another version of events, emperor Gaozong wasn't naive at all. Gaozong's predecessor was captured by the Jin dynasty when the enemy captured Song dynasty's capital Kaifeng in 1127.

Should Yue Fei succeed in defeating the Jin army, he is likely to rescue and bring back emperor Gaozong's predecessor, thereby putting his own reign in jeopardy.

So, for the sake of his own reign as emperor, the shrewd Gaozong played along with Chin Hui's scheme and made the latter, the villain for eternity.


When news of their hero Yue Fei's betrayal and death by the traitor 秦檜 Chin Hui reached the common people, they were so sad and angry. To express their anger and grieve, a fried pastry hawker in Hangzhou city put two dough sticks together and fried it in boiling oil. He called his creation you char Hui 油炸檜, meaning "oil fried Hui". The two dough sticks represent traitor Chin Hui 秦檜 and his wife 秦王氏.

When Prime Minister 秦檜 Chin Hui heard about "you char Hui", naturally he was furious. So, he took his bodyguards with him to confront the you char Hui hawker at the market. A big crowd gathered. They were not intimidated by Prime Minister 秦檜 and his guards. Instead, the people chanted:


"You cha Hui reminds us to never be traitors,
Traitors cannot escape the gates of hell,
Everyone is eating you cha Hui,
Traitors already cooked in oil before they are dead."

Seeing the defiance of the peasants, Chin Hui and his bodyguards quietly melted away.

In the 18 levels of Chinese Hell, false accusers are punished by frying in boiling oil.

The fried pastry you char Hui spread all over China and is eaten wherever there are Chinese communities around the world today. It reminds people of Yue Fei's loyalty and Chin Hui's treachery.

Chin Hui & wife kneeling at Yue Fei gravestone in Yue Fei's shrine in Hangzhou. Though not encouraged, some visitors curse and spit at these statues. Image credit: Wikipedia

秦檜 and his wife 秦王氏 lived till old age. In cahoots with emperor Gaozong, they were never punished for their evil deeds while alive. But, they are eternally punished by peasants and future generations who symbolically fry them in oil and eat them for breakfast - their treachery immortalised by the dish, you char Hui.

Yue Fei's mother tattooed "精忠报国 Loyal and Patriotic" on his back with a needle. Yue Fei lived by these virtues till his death. Image credit: Wikipedia 

The honour of Yue Fei was rehabilitated in 1162 by Emperor Xiaozong, 20 years after his death.

There are a few variations to the name of the fried pastry. The original is You Cha Hui 油炸檜 or Oil Fried Hui (as the traitor is Chin Hui). In Cantonese, it is Yau Cha Kwai 油炸鬼 or Oil Fried Devil. In Malaysia and Singapore, it is You Cha Kway 油炸粿 or Oil Fried Pastry.

So, you char kway is in memory of the great loyal general Yue Fei and his betrayal by Chin Hui. The name you char kway reminds us of the virtue of loyalty and the evil of betrayal.


In Taiwan, they still have the annual ritual of frying 秦檜 to commemorate his betrayal of Yue Fei.

The name you char kway is a form of intangible cultural heritage and when we replace them completely with another name like youtiao which simply means "oil stick", we are losing something of intangible value.


You cha kway is just flour, salt, egg and water dough deep fried till golden brown. It has a light crisp outside and slight tender chewiness inside. It is mildly savoury with subtle underlying sweetness.

There are many different ways to eat you cha kway, depending on the region. In China, it is often eaten as breakfast with bean curd and soy bean milk. In Hong Kong, it is sometimes wrapped inside steamed rice rolls (chee cheong fun). In Malaysia and Singapore, many people like to eat their you cha kway by dipping it into coffee. The savoury fried dough soak up the bitter sweetness of local Nanyang coffee to make a delicious breakfast or tea time snack.

Hainanese porridge in Johor Bahru, Malaysia

In Singapore and Malaysia, you cha kway is also cut and eaten with porridge or bak kut teh (meat bone tea which is actually a soup).

Of course, you cha kway can be eaten by itself, which I like.

History of Singapore bak kut teh

But, my favourite way is to eat my you cha kway with bak kut teh. You cha kway soaks up bak kut teh soup like a sponge but still retains a bit of crispy chewiness. The fried cruller's savoury sweetness combines well with the savoury herbal sweet taste of bak kut teh soup.

Try to say you char kway or yau cha kwai instead of youtiao next time. You will be playing your part to preserve a nearly 900 year old intangible cultural heritage.



民間傳說: 油炸檜 - 油條的來歷傳說

Date: 1 Jul 2020


  1. Most enlightening! Thanks for sharing! ��

  2. Good to dip into black coffee..yes, thanks for the share

  3. Thank you for this interesting story - just visited Yu Fei's tomb in Dec 2019 and saw the traitor couple's statues being made to "kneel" to Yu Fei (tomb) for all eternity. Didn't know about the additional layer to the story. I would give an extra strong bite to my yau char kwai every time I have it from now on.

  4. I still call them Cha Kuey, but most of my friends call them Cakoi or You Tiao. Thanks for sharing this story!

  5. nice! I still prefer to say it as you zha gui~ didn't know got this history behind it! Also another nice pairing is you cha kueh with Sarawak laksa soup!

  6. By Malaysia you mean west malaysia. In Sabah the hakkas and Cantonese speakers do still call it 油炸鬼.

  7. You jia kway go very well with dao suan also!

  8. Reading this as non-chinese, it is fascinating to learn the history and value of the food. Just to add, the amazing pastry really has impact not only to the chinese community around the world, but also entre to the mouth of other communities. The You char kway has a verity of names across southeast asia, cakoi in malay, thai pathongko, bicho-bicho/shakoy in filipino, cahkwe in indonesian and javanese, khanom khuu in laotian, chha kvai in khmer, bành quẩy in vietnamese, and ee kyar kway in burmese. But unlike Chinese, part people of southeast asia only consider it as a snack and the other half as a breakfast especially for vietnamese.


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