POP CUL­TURE

消逝中的童年记忆:“大炮手摇爆米花”

The World of Chinese - - News - PHOTOGRAPHY BY ZHANG DEMENG (张德萌TEXT BY LIU JUE (刘珏) )

When the tem­per­a­ture de­scends and there's a chill in the air, China's road­side pop­corn mak­ers come to town amid the clamor of neigh­bor­hood chil­dren. One of Hangzhou's few re­main­ing pop­corn-mak­ers fires up his mys­te­ri­ous metal ma­chine and shows TWOC how to pres­sure-cook the de­li­cious snack, which may soon ex­ist just in mem­ory

It’s a col­lec­tive child­hood mem­ory shared by the post80s gen­er­a­tion—when the pop­corn ven­dor ar­rives in the neigh­bor­hood and fires up his ma­chine by the street. Ev­ery­one rushes home to fetch a bowl of rice or corn. Mean­while, the ven­dor starts slow-rolling his pop­corn ma­chine over the fire—a black, metal, dan­ger­ous-look­ing ves­sel. A few min­utes later, as a crowd watches ner­vously, a “ka-boom!” an­nounces the ar­rival of sweet­smelling pop­corn. Pop­corn-mak­ing used to be a thrilling spec­ta­cle, not like to­day’s fast-food ver­sion in­volv­ing mi­crowaves and com­mer­cial breaks. With street ven­dors fast be­com­ing a thing of the past, and a new gen­er­a­tion de­vel­op­ing more di­verse snacking habits, is there still a place for pop­corn made the old-school way?

In 2013, Dis­cov­ery Chan­nel’s “Myth­busters” set out to find the quick­est way to make pop­corn, and im­ported a Chi­nese ma­chine, which they re­ferred to as “mys­te­ri­ous Ori­en­tal ord­nance.” Video footage of the show’s host wear­ing a bomb-proof suit, let­ting the pop­corn ex­plode all over the room in­stead of into a bag, was widely mocked in China. “Their meth­ods are all wrong,” tut­ted one viewer on Youku.com. An­other com­mented: “Is there se­ri­ously the need to wear a bomb suit? It’s an in­sult to the mem­o­ries of the Chi­nese peo­ple.” Still, other com­men­ta­tors were glad to be re­minded of one of their fa­vorite child­hood ac­tiv­i­ties.

The “ord­nance” es­sen­tially is a pres­sure ves­sel with a barom­e­ter. The de­vice is ro­tated over a high heat un­til the pres­sure reaches one mega-pas­cal, and lifted to open, with the con­tainer mouth at­tached to a bag or basket. The mo­ment the pres­sure is re­leased, the grain pops and bursts out of the cooker.

In the Wuchang district of Hangzhou, pho­tog­ra­pher Zhang Demeng came upon this pop­corn ven­dor who has stuck to the tra­di­tional style. The ven­dor said that he does not have a fixed lo­ca­tion in the city, and drifts from spot to spot. In the of­fice build­ings and con­struc­tion sites that now pop­u­late his beat, though, he does not get many cus­tomers. Per­haps in the near fu­ture, for him too, the mem­ory may be all that is left.

WHEN IT REACHES THE RIGHT PRES­SURE, THE COOKER IS LIFTED OFF THE FIRE. THE GRAIN ONLY POPS WHEN THE COOKER IS OPENED AND PRES­SURE RELIEVED

BY THIS POINT, THE WA­TER IN­SIDE THE POP­CORN SHOULD BE VAPORIZED AND THE STARCH LIQUEFIED

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