Yes, you read that right: OIL-TEA! 油茶 [ yóuchá ]
First time I heard “Oil Tea”, I thought to myself “Whaaat?! I know Chinese love their oil, as can testify all the 5 liters bottles on the supermarket shelves, but still…making tea with oil?”.
I had to check this out.
So I went to Oil Tea’s home: Longsheng county in Guangxi province, China.
Longsheng county is a picturest mountainous area where practically all mountains slopes have been turned into rice terraces. Resulting in a sublime and highly scenic landscape.
You can also find Oil Tea in Guilin, one of Guangxi’s major cities, where few shops are specialised in Oil tea. Guangxi is an autonomous region inhabited by several Chinese minorities. Among them, the Zhuang, the Yao and the Miao. The Yao people are the most famous Oil Tea drinkers. In the sloppy and steep mountains of the Guangxi province, ethnic people lived a simple life, working hard to cultivate rice on the uncountable rice terraces. Cultivating rice, and tea, having to cope with the harsh months of cold winter, the cheap and nutritious Oil tea naturally imposed as a the perfect drink. It keeps the body warm while having a good time chatting with friends and family. Oil tea has a strong taste and is a bit of a misnomer given the fact that it is much more than simply oil and tea!
I tried oil tea a couple of times…never saw it on a menu. The first time I asked for it the restaurant’s owner was quite surprised and went to get what she need from her own kitchen. Can’t be more local and authentic! Waiting for a mere cup of tea what a good surprise it was when she came back with a huge bowl of dark greenish/brownish liquid, and in separated bowls chopped green onion and puffed rice (the Rice Krispies ancestor !? lol). It looked like a fest!
My advice: if you go hiking in the Longsheng mountains, Oil tea with some rice cooked in bamboo is the perfect breakfast to kick-start your day!
Now: How is Oil tea made?!!
Oil tea is prepared by frying tea leaves in peanut oil with garlic, salt, ginger and chili.
Then, water is added and the mixture is boiled. The whole thing is strained to keep the liquid only. Chopped green onion, peanuts and puffed rice on the side. Add these three ingredients to the broth according to your taste. Sometimes it comes already mixed together…So if you order some, make sure to ask separate so you can add the rice at the last moment to keep it crispy ;).
Eventually Oil Tea is almost more a dish than a drink! What I enjoyed the most is the contrast of the warm silky strong taste of the fried tea with the crunchiness, soon becoming chewiness, of the puffed rice. I couldn’t help but thinking the whole experience as an ancestor of the Western’s popular breakfast sweeten puffed rice mixed with milk. But a complete opposite: this one being a salty puffed rice with warm/earthy tea.
I have to confess: I fell in love with Oil Tea and highly recommend this food adventure!