All hellzapoppin' in the orbit of tasty snack choices

Whether sweet, salty or spicy, snacks provide those small comforts of life that hit the spot when we are peckish, at loose ends, disheartened or a bit stressed.

Whether sweet, salty or spicy, snacks provide those small comforts of life that hit the spot when we are peckish, at loose ends, disheartened or a bit stressed.

Many Chinese snacks are made from grains and cereals, and some are definitely “more-ish.” We take a look at some of the most popular of these snacks.

Popcorn

Popcorn is a popular snack worldwide, and China is no exception. It has a long history here.

For the post-1980s generation, old-fashioned Chinese popcorn is a cherished childhood memory. It was made by “cannons” — pressured metal machines heated by a charcoal flame and hand-operated by street vendors. A bag was used to capture the flying popped corn at it exploded out of the cannon.

Old-fashioned Chinese popcorn.

Unlike modern popcorn makers that only handle corn, the old fashion cannon could process rice, beans and even potatoes.

The popcorn cannon was featured in the Discovery Channel show “MythBusters” a few years back. The program hosts wore protective “bomb suits” when testing the device, which caused some ridicule on Chinese social networking sites.

Chinese popcorn cannon dates back to Song Dynasty (AD 960-1279). Poet Fan Chengda wrote about the various customs associated with making popcorn to celebrate the Lantern Festival in a compilation of his verse entitled “Stone Lake: The Poetry of Fan Chengda.”

The Song people used the popped corn to predict good or bad fortune for the coming year. Young girls used this fortunetelling method to predict their marriages.

Back then, popcorn was called beilou (孛娄), which imitates the thunder-like explosive sound created in making the snack.

In southern provinces, rice is more commonly used than corn. Thin slices of sun-dried rice cake also can be popped to make delicious sweet chips.

More than two decades ago, children would rush to the “cannon” stalls with raw rice or corn and sugar after hearing the first boom unleashed by popcorn vendors. The experienced vendors could tell the quality of a batch by the sound of the explosions, and the crowd that encircled them often covered the ears with their hands to lessen the noise.

Craftsmanship involving flames and explosions can be very dangerous. In 2014, a 7-year-old child was hit and killed by the debris from an explosive popcorn cannon while he walked past a vendor in Hunan Province.

Today, the old popcorn cannon is rarely seen on the streets because of potential safety hazards and health concerns.

The popcorn made in canisters with lead-cast iron seals contains excessive amount of lead — not a recommended substance to digest.

The popcorn cannon creates flames and explosions, it's associated with potential health and safety hazards.

Rice popcorn can be enjoyed alone or processed to make other snacks, like crunchy rice bars, which mix the rice with maltose and nuts.

Uncle Pop (米老头) is a popular snack brand known for popcorn-related treats, like peanut and sesame flavored crunchy wheat bars.

Crunchy glutinous rice bars called dachaomi (打炒米) are a traditional snack in Maoming in Guangdong Province.

Guoba, or rice crust

Rice crust, or guoba (锅巴), is a Chinese snack that features quite a few variations and different ingredients.

Guoba was traditionally made by heating up steamed rice over a flame until the bottom layer in contact with the wok became seared. It’s considered the soul of clay pot rice with Cantonese sausage, where the flavor of the burnt rice fuses with the tastiness of the sauce.

Guoba is usually deep-fried. The ingredients range from common and glutinous rice to millet and mixed cereals.

To make glutinous rice guoba at home, simply soak the glutinous rice in water overnight until the kernels enlarge and their color whitens. Then season with salt. Take a portion of the glutinous rice in a round-mesh spatula and deep fry in hot oil until the pieces of guoba float without breaking apart. Let each serving sit to get rid of excess oil, and the snack is ready to eat.

For a healthier version, use an eggroll press or bake in the oven, though the result isn’t as fragrant as the fried version because of the lack of the puffing process.

A popular sizzling guoba dish uses deep-fried rice or glutinous rice patties topped with a sizzling stir-fry of meats, seafood or vegetables.

The stir-fry and sauce must be poured onto the pieces of scorched rice when very hot, preferably in front of guests to present the sizzling effect.

Guoba snacks in the shape of small squares are made by deep-frying thin, square pieces of flour with glutinous rice or millet dough. They comes in various flavors including hot and spicy, cumin and Thirteen Spice.

Glutinous rice guoba can be enjoyed as a snack or made into a stir-fry.

Other snacks made of cereal grains

Chaomi (炒米), or stir-fried rice, is a snack that originated in Mongolia. It uses proso millet, which is soaked, steamed and stir-fried in a wok until all the moisture is gone. The stir-fried proso millet can be added to Mongolian-style milk teas to soften the texture and give the teas a distinctive flavor.

Chaomi can be made with glutinous or standard rice, which is more common in the south of China.

Glutinous rice stick (江米条) is a classic Chinese snack made of glutinous rice, bean flour and maltose. The dough is steamed, pounded and fried. It’s crunchy and extra sweet because of the sugar.

Glutinous rice sticks are a must-have when celebrating Spring Festival in some areas of the country.

Li Anlan

Glutinous rice sticks.

Brown rice roll (糙米卷) is a stripe-shaped puffed snack made without frying. It comes in flavors of egg, cream or fruit filling. Though brown rice is a healthy ingredient, the flavorings and sugar added in the rolls are not necessarily so beneficial.

Kangleguo (康乐果) is a puffed rice treat made of corn or rice, depending on the region of the country. It was especially popular in the 1980s and 1990s as a cheap snack.

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