• Shona McCarthy

Must Have Chinese Snacks

When I was growing up in Springvale, Vic, there were some Chinese snacks that found their way into my home over and over again. They were addictively delicious, but usually healthier than snacks found in Safeways or Franklins. Being able to eat these sorts of snacks in Australia is a great way to celebrate Chinese New Year, and to literally taste another culture. Many of these doubled as ways of preserving fruits and herbs, and so they were often given as dowries and similar useful gifts. So what where they?

.~* Preserved Mandarin Rinds *~.

(Taken by me, 2020.)

It's funny to think that something you'd usually peel off a fruit and throw away could ever be a food in of itself. But preserved mandarin rinds are remarkably delicious. They typically seem to have been left in salt and sugar till they are completely shrivelled. To eat they are sour, sweet and salty and radiant, bombastic amounts. It's like your tongue is being slapped by flavours. All the while, you can still taste the tangy citrus of the peel, too. So delicious, but probably unwise in large amounts.

.~* Shelly Senbei *~.

(Photos taken by me, 2020.)

This is the only savoury item on this list. In truth, I now know that senbei is actually Japanese, and there are many, many varieties of it. But when I was growing up, the "Hot Kid" brand with it's umami smell , salty underside and faintly sweet little shells on the top was the only one I knew. To eat it was always as satisfying to me as potato chips. In truth, senbei can be thought of as being a savoury rice biscuit. Only, these have a much lighter, fluffier texture than the rice crackers you'd usually find at Woolies. Plus, they're much bigger. Other than an excess of carbs, I can't think of anything to warn you about here.

.~* Dried, Salty Plums *~.

(Taken by me, 2020.)

I never found the taste of these to be all that salty, if I'm honest. We typically bought either the red or white variety of these. I'm not sure what was in the powder layers to make them that colour. What I know was that these were always shockingly sour. More powerful than sour candy, and only slightly easier to chew through. But, since it once had been a plum, the flesh was still slightly... fleshy. Looking back on how sour they were, I'm not sure why I ate so many of them as a child. I sometimes watered them under the kitchen tap trying to make them a little less sour. But they seem to appear in other Asian cultures, and some people eat them as a way of coping with morning sickness.

.~* Pork Floss *~.

(Taken by me, 2020.)

Pork floss is much like fairy floss. Only instead of being sweet, it's made of meat. Well seasoned, salty, umami meat. As the packaging indicates, you can put it in sandwitches, sushi and other meals. But much of my life, I simply ate it out of the bag like potato chips. Really good with mayonnaise. Do not inhale.

.~* Juicy Dried Plums *~.

(Taken by me, 2020.)

Of all the items on this list, this is probably my favourite. It gives you all the good things about prunes, but these are so sweet, so juicy, so morish. I've seen these packaged many ways. As a friend observed, the amount of plastic seems to be excessive. I suspect a fair amount of sugar has been added, but I expect these would still be high in fiber. Just watch out for the pits.

.~* White Rabbit Candy *~.

(Taken by me, 2020.)

This is probably the best known item on this list. There are now many varieties of this milky, sweet taffy available. But for me and many other Asian people, eating this candy is an important memory of childhood. Probably a good source of calcium since it contains real milk solids. But at the same time, there is a lot of sugar in it. So eat sparingly. Or try to.

.~* Haw Flakes *~.

(Taken by me, 2020)

Imagine you have a roll of coins from the bank. Now imagine if the paper is thinner more colourful. And the coins are much, much thinner, and crumbly. Now imagine putting them in your mouth and finding they are sweet, a little tart and slightly herbal in taste. That is haw flakes. These sometimes showed up as my play lunch snacks since they are so compact and portable. They are made from the dried out fruit of the hawthorn tree, and said to have therapeutic benefits for women. When I bought some for the photos, I found they were less pink and sweet than they had been when I was a child. They are now more brown and grainy. But still very nice.

..~~** Honourable Mentions **~~..

There are some items I wanted to write about, but I couldn't find them anywhere when I sought them. So, I will simply describe them sans photos. .~* Liquorice OIives *~.

These items don't look much like olives, nor do they taste anything like liquorice. They are a dark brown, and the flesh is quite firm, almost leatherlike, except fairly easy to chew through. The taste is sweet and slightly tart, without the pungent, oily overtones of the standard olive. I don't know it for certain, but I suspect these are a great source of fiber. Just watch out for the pit in the middle. It's like a hard football with pointy ends and would probably mean a trip to the ER if you swallowed it. I've learned that there are yellow varieties. For some reason, my family only ever had brown. For some reason, in all my searching I couldn't find it in any of the Asian supermarkets I visited in Springvale or Melbourne Central. But I have to think the product still exists somewhere. .~* Spicy Dried Squid *~.

I'm honestly very surprised that I wasn't able to find this in all my searching. But at the same time, I'm amazed anyone enjoys eating this food as much as I do. When you open the bag, the first thing that hits you is the stink of dried squid. Since, after all, this is essentially ocean jerky. The seasoning makes it so sweet and umami at the same time. If you eat too much in one go, the spice can build for you, so you can adjust your eating speed for your personal tastes. Lighter and flakier than you might expect this food to be, it's so good that I've grown to love its fishy stink.

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