Step 1: Locate the breakfast spot, usually in a residential alley. Telltale signs are giant, bubbling pots, a charcoal oven with a huge bamboo steamer basket of rice over it, a precarious deep fryer with golden sticks of airy you tiao sticking out of the fry basket, and a counter dusted with flour. We were lucky that the proprietors of our go-to spot was always shaping fresh dough for deep frying.
Step 2: Order a piece of fried dough, most likely a you tiao and a bowl of savory soy milk. I went to one place where the server gave me a bowl with all the savory toppings and some vinegar already in it. Then she fetched a steaming ladle full of fresh soy milk and poured it into the bowl so that the soy milk congealed on the spot. Don’t forget to dip the you tiao into the soy milk.
Step 3: Also try out the fresh silken tofu. This is a more congealed form of the soy milk. The savory toppings often contain green onion, pickled vegetables, tiny dried shrimp, and soy sauce. You tiao also goes well in here if you tear it off into bite sized pieces to soak up the salty broth.
Step 4: Order a rice hash brown (chi fan gao) for the road. It’s best to order this on your way out, because it is perfect straight out of the fryer. The outer layer of crunch is a perfect envelope to the sticky, dangerously hot rice packed in the middle.
Protip: If you’re vegetarian, you can order the savory items without the dried shrimp.