The donut is king in my country. There’s Country Style Donuts, Tim Horton’s, 7-11, Robin’s Donuts and Mac’s — a range of donut pushers varying in quality and price. That’s right, pushers. Donuts are a shot to the Canadian identity. You can’t bump into someone who hasn’t thought of or just eaten a donut.
I use to work at an engineering company and the biggest event was birthday donuts. HR thought it brilliant to combine everybody’s birthday for that month and spring for several boxes of timbits. They never got creative, never deviated from the plan, yet like clockwork employees piled into the lunch room and grabbed their donut portion.
It got to the point I avoided donut day, my cholesterol levels and hip circumference just couldn’t take it any longer and to introduce something radical such as cupcakes was forbidden, downright controversial.
Lately though, I feel nostalgic for the donut. My sinful one: Boston Cream. A conservative choice: plain with glaze on the top.
The beauty of the Canadian donut is how universal it is, every facet of society consumes them, not just the pot bellied cops, but firemen, executives, postal clerks and truck drivers (really, you aren’t a truck driver with street cred unless you have a relationship with a donut).
To continue with my childhood exploration of Hong Kong, a special donut exists there, one that I also feel nostalgic for, ironically for the same reasons.
Inevitably the brain wants to compare the two cultures, measure the similarities and differences. Often there are two Jeannies sharing space in my body, the little girl who bowed to the traditional foods of her childhood and the Canadian prairie lass adopting to tastes outside the home.
In Hong Kong, I indulged my playful side and ate a ton of Chinese donut. Referred to as Chinese oil stick or yàuhjagwái, essentially the donut is a fried breadstick. But fluffier, and savoury! A crunchy, addictive bite will justify why a large order is not uncommon.
To eat is simple, with a substantial bowl of congee (and chee cheong fun on the side — rice rolls) typically at breakfast time.
I snuck into an average Cantonese cafe to see just how they prepare the donut.
A large slab of dough under wax paper.
The dough is rolled out length wise, cut into pieces and a piece is then attached to another piece and so on, to give the impression of an indentation in the final product. This makes it easier to cut or eat, for the purpose of splitting the two sections apart.
The donut is submerged in oil and once they are floating on top, they are turned until both sides are golden brown.
The donut, window ready for sale.
People will often buy some just to eat out of a brown bag, without a bowl of congee. Another popular way to eat the donut is to dip it in soy milk. Sounds unappetizing, but I tried it and it was quite tasty to gobble up the liquid soaking in the donut’s centre. Soy milk in Asia is not as sweet as the soy milk produced in North America.
The Chinese donut and the Canadian donut are difficult to compare, both invoke a warmth in me. Both have built separate memories that are equally cherished and really, both are indisputably delicious on their own merits.
If you venture to Hong Kong, I encourage you to seek out a hole-in-the-wall cafe and try this anchoring staple of Cantonese culture. I even think cops would eat it.