Tujia Youcha Tang (Oil Tea Soup)

tujia oil tea soup

Tujia Oil Tea Soup, also known as “Youcha Tang (土家油茶汤),” is a unique delicacy that combines the flavors of tea with the heartiness of soup. Fragrant, crispy, smooth, and savory, this dish is beloved among the Tujia people, constituting a traditional and cherished aspect of their culinary heritage. There’s a folk saying that encapsulates its significance: “A day without Oil Tea Soup, even a table full of wine and meat won’t taste as good.” Moreover, serving Oil Tea Soup is a customary gesture of hospitality among the Tujia people. Whenever esteemed guests arrive, it’s customary to offer them a steaming bowl of this fragrant brew.

The Tujia people are renowned for their hospitality. Whenever guests arrive at the village, hosts warmly welcome them and invite them into the stilted wooden houses. As the host engages in conversation with the guests, the hostess prepares the Oil Tea Soup in the kitchen. She places a pot over the hearth, typically constructed of square stones, and fries a variety of ingredients such as walnuts, roasted rice, sesame seeds, peanuts, soybeans, and popped corn in tea oil or lard.

Once the ingredients are fried to perfection, they are brought to the main room and placed on the eight immortals’ table. Next, the hostess pours an appropriate amount of tea oil into the pot. When the oil begins to smoke slightly, she adds a small handful of tea leaves, along with seasoning such as Sichuan peppercorns, black pepper, shredded ginger, and salt. After a quick stir-fry, she pours a ladle of cold water into the pot and continues to stir and press with a spatula, then adds more water and lets it simmer for a few minutes before garnishing with chopped scallions and garlic. Once the soup reaches a boil, it’s poured over the fried ingredients in the bowls, creating a steaming, aromatic Oil Tea Soup.

Traditionally, Oil Tea Soup is enjoyed without chopsticks or spoons; instead, it is drunk directly from the bowl, allowing the eater to savor both the broth and the solid ingredients together.

Due to the Tujia people’s oral tradition, there are various interpretations regarding the origins and customs surrounding Oil Tea Soup. According to legend, during the Ming Dynasty, the Tujia people often faced attacks and sieges from feudal rulers. On the eve of the lunar New Year, when supplies were scarce, families would gather whatever ingredients they had left – tea leaves, tea oil, corn, and garlic shoots – to make a pot of “Oil Tea Soup” to celebrate the new year. This tradition has persisted through the generations to the present day, symbolizing resilience and unity in the face of adversity.

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