The first three words of the title of this post refer to a campaign of Xibei Youmian, a restaurant chain specialised in oat noodles. You(mian) is the Chinese word for ‘oats (noodles)’
Naked oat has more than 2100 year history in China. The Chinese oat growing region reached 1.13 million ha in the 1960s, but declined from 1980s, dropping to about 0.3 million ha in 2003, the lowest in history. After that, the area increased gradually. There were about 0.7 million ha of oats in 2010, with a total yield of about 850,000 mt. The reason for the recent increase is the growing popularity of this cereal, at least partly triggered by a new successful restaurant formula. Domestic production cannot keep up with the demand as is shown by the following table of oats imports in recent years.
Westerners tend to associate oat with breakfast. Oat meal cooked in water or milk is a popular alternative for bread. Oat has been eaten as a staple in a large area in Northwest China (in particular: Shanxi, Gansu, Inner Mongolia). However, while the Western oat meal has reached Chinese breakfast tables as well in recent years, the traditional shapes in which it consumed is noodles.
In the first lunar month in the Chinese calendar, people in Inner Mongolia, especially in Hohhot, eat foods made with hulless oat flour in the form of noodles, rolls or pancakes involving various flavours. Oat is the staple food there. It is a low-yield, cold-resisting and salt-alkali-resisting crop with a short mature period, contain high protein, fat and many kinds of trace elements, such as iron, calcium and phosphorus. Oat powder can be made into noodles for mutton or vegetable soup seasoned with pepper and garlic.
Regular oat noodles are usually slightly thicker than the more common wheat noodles, due to the looser texture. The most typical presentation form of youmian in China is the cup noodle; short round hollow shapes that can be dipped in a savoury sauce, adding condiments of your choice. It is this type of oat noodles around which the above mentioned restaurant chain, Xibei Youmian, has been conceived. Xibei, though deliberately written with different characters, means ‘Northeast’, referring to the home region of Chinese oat. You have learned the word youmian in the opening paragraph.
Yet another traditional presentation form is the ‘oat fish’. This name is based on the shape, quenelles that, with a little phantasy, look like a fish. The picture shows fishes made from a combination of oat and yam.
Some innovative chefs are trying out new recipes like oat dumplings and oat pudding. Others make larger versions of the hollow oat noodles that can then be stuffed with different kinds of fillings.
Xibei Youmian serves oat in various shapes and other typical dishes of China’s Northwest. You can find them all over Beijing and they are crowded with returning patrons every lunch and dinner. Try it out yourself and I am sure you will join me in shouting ‘I love You!’.
Promoting oats: traditional and innovative recipes
The government is actively promoting the consumption of oats by recommending to use it as an ingredient to traditional foods. The above ad from the government-run lifestyle magazine Lifetimes (Shengming Shibao) recommends to add oats to: milk (in combination with other ingredients), millet congee, egg broth and soy bean milk. Oat in millet congee is said to promote peace of mind and sound sleep, lower blood sugar and strengthen stomach and lungs. Sounds like I should give it try.
An example of an innovative recipe with oats is the ‘egg + oats’ ice cream, introduced in my post on ice cream.
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Peter Peverelli is active in and with China since 1975.