Chinese crullers: When a doughnut is more than just a doughnut

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Jean Trinh (pictured here as a baby) says the Chinese cruller was more than a doughnut to her family, it was a symbol of resilience as they immigrated to America. Photo courtesy of Jean Trinh.

"In Mandarin, they go by the name 'youtiao,' or in my Chinese dialect of Teochew, they go by 'yu char kway,'" says LA-based food writer Jean Trinh, describing the Chinese cruller made of two strips of fried dough. 

Trinh’s parents sold the crullers as they fled the Khmer Rouge, wandering between Cambodia and Vietnam. Her father found work boiling water in a coffee shop, where he watched the chef make the doughnuts without knowing it would become his livelihood. Trinh's family lived in Saigon for four years, where they ran a profitable business producing 500 crullers a day.

In 1981, while living in a refugee camp in Thailand, her family was sponsored by the Red Cross and a church and then immigrated to Milwaukee, where they saw snow for the first time in their lives.

Trinh is nominated for a James Beard Award this year in the Personal Essay Without Recipes category. 

Chinese crullers. Photo by Shutterstock