What Is Deep Fried Milk And What's Its Origin Story?

plate of cantonese fried milk
plate of cantonese fried milk - bonchan/Shutterstock

America has a reputation for producing and enjoying all manner of fried foods, but it's important to remember that America is also far from the only country with a love for and expertise in deep-fried concoctions. In particular, there's one thing numerous countries around the globe have loved frying for longer than the U.S. has even existed: milk. Fried milk may sound like a county fair food, but it has a rich global history: India has gulab jamun, Spain has leche frita, Italy has latte dolce fritto -- and China has zha xian nai.

Of these extant forms of fried milk, the Cantonese zha xian nai might be the most intriguing. Small, fried nuggets of milk with a creamy, pudding-like center, zha xian nai has traditionally been used as a fun snack to keep kids happy while adults eat -- or just to provide a counterpart to more savory dishes. Frankly, it's surprising it hasn't caught on like wildfire in countries other than China.

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Fried Milk Doesn't Really Have An Origin Story

plate of fried milk
plate of fried milk - xiaoxiao9119/Shutterstock

The origin of fried milk is hard to pin down. There are no elaborate competing origin myths here, as with chicken a la king or Buffalo wings. Instead, zha xian nai appears to have developed naturally over time, as many foods do. The most we know is that it first appeared in the Shunde District of the province of Guangdong. In addition to being the birthplace of dim sum, Guangdong province is well-known for its love of fried foods, so it's not altogether surprising that it would be the originator of fried milk.

As for what it is, fried milk is a surprisingly simple food in terms of ingredients because all you need is milk, cornstarch, and sugar. You can also use panko or tempura bread crumbs on the outside if you'd prefer, but just cornstarch works, too. The secret here is all in the technique.

Fried Milk Is Surprisingly Easy To Make

plate of leche frita
plate of leche frita - Demidoffaleks/Getty Images

To make fried milk, you simply take your three ingredients and cook them together until the cornstarch dissolves. From there, the mixture gets poured into a container and put in the fridge to set. Once it's thickened, you cut it into strips of the desired size, coat it in more cornstarch (or egg followed by one of the other bread crumb coatings), and fry (in a pan for preference, though you can use an air fryer as well). It's typically served with a side of sweetened condensed milk for dipping.

The result is a crispy, pudding-like snack that can be eaten as a dessert or an afternoon snack. It's much lighter than most fried foods (especially if corn starch is the only coating), meaning it won't make you feel weighed down like many other options. Next time you want to try something new, don't look askance at zha xian nai.

Read the original article on Daily Meal.