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Milk: And the Chinese Culinary

by Jacqueline M. Newman

Fall Volume: 2017 Issue: 24(3) pages: 14 to 15

Most Chinese do not drink milk nor do they use it often, some never, in their culinary. Called niunai, if cow’s milk, many minority populations do use it. These minority people make up more than eight percent of China’s population, and they do consume some, but not often as a beverage. None of them drink milk cold and only a few do so at room temperature as many in Europe and folks in the Western world do. All Chinese feed some to their infants and very young children, and most minority folk do cook with it. Some ferment it, and some use it as cheese. Some lose the ability to digest milk and become lactose intolerant soon after stopping its consumption as they become unable to digest the milk sugar called lactose.

Most Chinese drink tea, their most consumed beverage. These days young folk drink more coffee than ever before and they frequent Starbucks or other coffee shops now popular throughout China. There is also a small but growing population consuming whole, low- or no-fat milk, or soy and nut milks, perhaps influenced by western literature. Some folks we queried do believe this is a route to the American dream. However, after some time, even those living in the US give up this practice.

Of the Chinese minorities consuming milk, most are Mongolians and Tibetans, others are from the so-called ‘Stan’ countries. There are some Chinese in China and elsewhere who, as immigrants from the ‘Stan’ countries such as Uzbekistan and Kazakhistan who do drink milk, and they use it in their coffee and they cook with it. They also ferment it and then use it in that way.

These minority populations boil their milk on low heat for some time, then cool it leaving the cream on top, and it coagulates with a semi-solid layer on top. Then, with chopsticks or another tool, they remove this layer calling it their ‘milk film’ or another name. This cheeselike product, some mix with stir-fried millet or another grain, or eat it with or on their bread or another breadlike food. Others totally dry the top of this cooked milk and call it ‘milk leather.’

Many Chinese ethnic minority people put some milk in a warm place and ferment it until it gets a texture similar to tofu; and they drain off any excess liquid from this partially coagulated food. Some also filter it in cheesecloth or another fabric over a bowl to capture the liquid. Some do use that in their cooked foods; and some of them shape these semi-solids and eat them like cheese, dry some completely, and/or use it in their tea or with a stir-fried grain. They might call it ‘milk tofu’ or ‘dry milk’ or ‘milk curds’.

Others drink their milk tea warm or hot, some boil it for three or more minutes and add a little salt, butter, or other things and drink or eat it hot or warm. They might make theirs with cow, yak, soy, or nut milks and enjoy them partially or completely solidified. These are economical shelf-stable protein sources that do nutritionally compare to ones made with cow or yak milks. Some, they serve plain, others sweetened or as a savory beverage or in a dish with salt, soy sauce, vegetables, meat, fish, or another protein source.

On the next page are a few recipes for these items. Many but not all do stay for several days without refrigeration, longer with it. Tofu pudding, called douhau by some, is a soft pudding made mixing soy milk with nagari, a natural magnesium chloride, or with gypsum for its coagulation abilities. Sweetened or put on top can be brown sugar, maltose, or another sweetener. It can be found for sale in many parts of China plain or stirred with red bean soup, durian, creamed black sesame paste, mango paste, any juice, chopped onions or scallions, soy sauce, minced mushrooms, cooked ground pork or another meat or fish, or just with minced garlic. Sweet or savory, these common milk-foods are eaten as a part of any Chinese meal, or as the entire meal in some places in China.

Fried Milk

1 cup fresh whole milk
6 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 Tablespoons custard powder
2 egg whites, lightly beaten in a bowl
1 cup milk
2/3 cup chicken broth
dash of vegetable oil and one of salt
5 Tablespoons baking powder
1 Tablespoon yeast
3 Tablespoons oil
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce (optional)
2 Tablespoons super-fine sugar (optional)


1. Mix milk with half the cornstarch and half the custard powder and set this aside.
2. Then, heat a wok or pot, add the broth, and when it boils, reduce the heat and add the milk mixture and a dash of vegetable oil and the salt. Keep the heat low, mix in the egg whites and pour this mixture into a flat-bottomed metal plate. Let it set in the refrigerator and cool about half an hour, then mix in the baking powder and yeast, and simmer this until golden, then chill covered until totally set.
3. Now, add oil to a clean pot, and deep fry the milk solids until golden, then refrigerate them until firm. Serve with oyster sauce and the sugar, if desired.

Deep-Fried Milk Cakes

1 cup flour
3 cups milk
2 Tablespoons sweet butter
1 cup cornstarch
2 Tablespoons white sesame seeds, dry-fried on low heat
½ cup granulated sugar, blended until fine


1. Mix flour and milk in a small bowl until well-dissolved.
2. Melt butter in a small pot, pour in flour and milk batter and stir until thickened, then let this cool and congeal.
3. Turn out on a flat plate, cut into diamond-shaped pieces, and coat well with cornstarch.
4. Heat the oil, and fry until exterior is brown and crisp on both sides, and pat both of them with paper towels.
5. Mix ground sesame seeds and sugar. Sprinkle on both sides of the congealed milk, cut into squares, and serve.

Milk and Fish

½ cup fresh whole milk
3 Tablespoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons custard powder
½ cup broth
½ teaspoon coarse salt
3 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
1 egg white
3 Tablespoons baking powder
2 teaspoons yeast powder
½ cup any white cooked fish fillets, mashed
1 Tablespoon granulated sugar


1. Mix milk, cornstarch, and custard powder.
2. Heat a wok or saucepan, add the broth, then add the milk mixture, salt, and one-third of the oil and stir until sticky and slightly thickened, stir in the egg white, and cool until set in a flat pan.
3. Mix baking powder and yeast powder, then slowly add two or three tablespoons of cool water and the mashed cooked fish. Spread carefully on the coagulated milk mixture, then cut it into ten pieces.
4. Heat a clean wok or fry pan, add the remaining oil, and deep-fry the cut milk pieces topped with the fish mixture until golden on one side, turn over, then fry them on the other side until golden. Drain on paper towels, and put them on a platter, sprinkle with the sugar, and serve.

Milk With Crab

1 cup whole milk
2 cups crab meat
6 Tablespoons vegetable oil, divided in half
½ teaspoon coarse salt
1 sweet Chinese sausage, sliced thin, each slice cut in quarters
10 egg whites
½ teaspoon ground dried mushroom powder
½ cup slivered blanched toasted almonds


1. Bring milk to the boil, then allow it to cool, and stir in the cornstarch, and stir until it is completely lump-free.
2. Mix half the oil, the salt and the crab meat, and put in a pre-heated wok or fry pan and stir-fry until the crab meat is heated through, then remove it to a bowl lined with paper towels.
3. Put sausage pieces in a dry wok and stir-fry until they are almost crisp, then remove and dry them with several paper towels.
4. Beat egg whites until foamy but not dry, add the mushroom powder, then add the milk mixture, crab, and sausage pieces one by one, stirring gently after each addition. Then slowly add the rest of the oil mix with the foamed egg whites stirring until they are just about set. Sprinkle the almonds on top and put into preheated individual soup or rice bowls; then serve.

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