Grannies go gaga for these nostalgic snacks, some from dynastic times, others invented after the second world war.
Take a stroll down memory lane with old-school Hong Kong street snacks
1. Maltose Crackers 麥芽糖夾餅
A popular snack since the ’50s, sweet, sticky maltose is sandwiched between two crunchy soda crackers. Texturally fun, minimalist, simple and easy to make at home, even by busy mothers… enough said.
2. Pearl Barley Pastry 薏米餅
Made from pearl barley, yi mai beng is a cream-coloured flaky pastry that may taste rather bland at first but slowly dissipates in the mouth and is best enjoyed with a hot cup of tea. Believed to be a highly-nutritious snack with skin-whitening properties, it makes for a great gift and is popular among women.
3. Tea Dumpling 茶果
This Hakka snack has a 1,000-year recorded history, and its origins are certainly much older. Glutinous rice is pounded and steamed, and dyed dark green by powdered tea leaves, mugwort or the pungent stink or skunk vine (the Cantonese is even more descriptive – chicken poo vine). A savoury form can be made with dried shrimp, pork floss or black-eyed peas.
4. Sugar Scallion Cake 糖蔥餅
This Teochew sweet came to Hong Kong in the ’30s and, despite the name, contains no scallions. Instead, maltose is manipulated into a slender white cylinder, like a scallion, and coated in coconut or sesame. Parents gladly bought these sweet snacks for their children, because “scallion” rhymes with “clever” in Cantonese, thus ensuring good grades.
5. Dragon Beard Candy 龍鬚糖
Considered a delicacy, this Chinese cotton candy is achieved by repeatedly folding, pulling and twisting a dough of sugar and maltose syrup into hair-thin strands. Dusted with toasted glutinous rice flour to prevent the strands sticking together, the silk cocoon is folded around sesame seeds, peanuts, desiccated coconut, or crushed chocolate.
6. Liquorice Lemon 甘草檸檬
Dried lemons are dusted in liquorice powder for a sweet and tangy snack, without the astringent bitterness of the rinds. Traditionally, pregnant women love to snack on these anise-flavoured cured citrus.
7. Peanut Candy 花生糖
Traditionally, roasted peanuts are melted and caramelised with just sugar, but it’s common to find sesame seeds and other seasonings as well. The brittle, irregular candy is sweet and fragrant with a glassy appearance from the sugar.
8. Sachima 沙琪瑪
When the Manchus took China and founded the Qing, this traditional Manchurian sweetmeat became popular all over Beijing and soon the rest of the country. Fluffy bits of fried dough are bound together with sugar syrup. The original version contained goji berries, and we think modern ma zai (the shortened Cantonese nickname) should incorporate the healthy superfood as well.
9. Airplane Olives 飛機欖
These Chinese white olives pickled with salt and Chinese licorice are arguably one of the most popular snacks in Hong Kong between the ‘50s and ‘70s. As the pedlar cried his wares, people would throw money wrapped in newspaper from their apartment, and the hawker, after catching the money with his hat, would throw the olives onto the balcony into the customer’s hands, giving the airplane olive its name.
10. Sugarcane Pudding 蔗汁糕
A cooling snack for the summer, this chartreuse green jelly is flavoured with refreshing sugar cane juice and often served straight in a ceramic bowl.
11. Chisel Candy 叮叮糖
The Cantonese name is onomatopeic for the sound of the hard candy being broken up by hawkers with chisels. Melted maltose is pulled and coiled repeatedly before fully solidifying to a crisp texture. Ginger is the traditional flavour, but today there’s also mint, mango and coconut.
12. Sliced Cloud Cake 雲片糕
The ingredients in this Guangxi delight are nothing fancy, but the beauty lies in the intricate techniques that go into making them. After steaming cooked glutinous flour with different types of sugar, the cloud white cake is then finely cut into thin slices, that is, 140 slices for every 22cm. It has a fragrant rice flavour with hints of honey and osmanthus and a melt-in-your-mouth texture.
13. White Sugar Cake 白糖糕
This traditional pudding — made by steaming a dough of rice flour, white sugar, water and yeast — originated from Shunde in Guangdong province. This sponge, always served in triangular chunks, has a soft, chewy, airy texture and is sweet with a hint of tartness.
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