• Taiwan locals wake up at 7am, jump on a scooter and ride to work, but not before stopping by their favourite breakfast cafe for a shaobing youtiao. (Getty Images )Source: Getty Images
Fire up the grill, throw on a shaobing, wrap that baby around a fried yaotiao and breakfast is served.
By
Michelle Tchea

14 Sep 2021 - 12:38 PM  UPDATED 15 Sep 2021 - 10:19 AM

As much as I love a Melbourne-style cafe breakfast of lush, organic scrambled eggs on buttered toast alongside a half-moon avocado, there are still many other breakfasts out there, including Taiwan's shaobing (flaky flatbread or 燒餅) that wraps around a youtiao (fried doughnut or 油條).

Sure, Australians are behind a breakfast culture that's gone global. People will wait one whole hour to have brunch at a cafe on the weekend. International cities like London and New York City are abuzz with Australian cafes and in Switzerland, an Australian breakfast may set you back AU$30+.

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However, for less than $1 (depending on the conversion rate) you can have the best breakfast sandwich in the world. A bold breakfast sandwich like shaobing youtiao demands a bold morning statement, and while this may have caused extreme distress for all you Australian breakfast-loving fanatics, you really must hear me out.  

Much like all the good eats in Taiwan, shaobing youtiao is much-loved street food. You see locals wake up at 7am, jump on a scooter and ride to work, but not before stopping by their favourite breakfast cafe for shaobing youtiao. Unlike many other breakfast sandwiches, this one has no egg (although, some versions contain it), no bacon and not a single spread of butter. However, a crunchy doughnut stuffed between a layered unleavened flatbread is all you need.

"A bold breakfast sandwich like shaobing youtiao demands a bold breakfast statement."

The basis of the sandwich is the shaobing, which is a flaky, unleavened flatbread with layers created from the addition of lots of oil or lard. Akin to an Indian paratha or Malaysian roti, the shaobing is light, airy and has a crispy outer shell. Many are made on the grill, but the best ones are cooked in a traditional earthenware kiln, much like an Indian tandoor. While the shaobing is great on its own, you really must try it stuffed with a Chinese doughnut called youtiao.

You might have seen youtiao at your Chinese grocer or had it at dim sum when you ordered congee. It's an elongated hollow tube that's fried until golden and crispy and it's shaobing's best friend. Although you can find shaobing youtiao in both Sydney and Melbourne, there really is nothing quite like eating the original in Taiwan. On rare occasions when I do visit Taiwan's capital of Taipei, I make a beeline for a Taiwanese breakfast cafe from the airport and unashamedly stuff two in my mouth before moving on to lunch.

Nothing beats the magic of watching a baker create your breakfast sandwich from scratch. Bakers slap the dough on a cold, metal kitchen counter. Then, they smear in lots of oil or lard and sprinkle a generous amount of sesame seeds on top before baking it in the oven. The puffed-up shaobing is brought to life when the baker places a crispy doughnut inside it. They hand it to you in a paper bag, which is so painfully hot to touch but well worth the burn marks on both fingers and lips for that first, oily bite. It's a foolproof way to get your day off to a good start. 

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Both youtiao and shaobing can be quite difficult to make at home, so I often find myself buying them from my local Chinese grocer or bakery. Be sure to grill the youtiao until crisp, before cutting it in half so you have four pieces. Fill each shaobing with one piece of youtiao and the kicker, just add an egg and spring onion omelette to make it a truly epic start.

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