Traditional snacks from your parent’s childhood
Interview a random child on the streets of Hong Kong about his or her favourite snack, and chances are, it’s going to be some cutesy confectionery imported from Japan. Don’t get us wrong – we have nothing against imported snacks. There’s nothing better than pigging out on limited edition flavoured Pocky or interestingly shaped chips.
But ask anyone over the age of 40, and they’re going to reminisce about the good old days of snacking. Back then, snacks didn’t come in pretty tinfoil packages and sanitized tins. No, snacks came in enormous glass jars in neighbourhood joints or straight off food carts parked in the middle of noisy streets. They might not look very appetizing, but they sure taste good.
Luckily, traditional snacks are still available in Hong Kong – you just have to know where to look. Here are five of our top picks:
Where to find it: Food carts selling roasted chestnuts will make sporadic appearances in busy pedestrian areas, especially Mongkok and Causeway Bay
Ahh, who can resist the temptation of roasted chestnuts fresh from a hawker’s wok? They’re the perfect snack on a cold winter’s day: warm, sweet, and filling without being overly cloying. First-timers might find them a bit fiddly initially, as roasted chestnuts can be difficult to peel. The trick is to use your fingernails to break the soft part of the shell before pulling it apart. The gem inside is well worth the trouble, we promise.
Preserved fruit peel (Chen pi)
Where to find it: Available in most supermarkets, but the best preserved fruit peels are usually found in traditional snack shops or herbalists
Preserved fruit peel might not sound particularly appetising, but the flavours definitely grow on you. Made by baking or air-drying mandarin fruit peel and seasoning with seven-flavour-powder, chen pi can help alleviate stomach bloating and bad breath. It also aids saliva production, which is why elderly people sometimes eat it on the bus or ferry to prevent motion sickness.
Aside from being a snack, chen pi can be used in cooking as well. Look out for dishes such as steamed abalone with chen pi or chen pi red bean soup.
Chicken biscuits (Gaai jaai beng)
Where to find it: In most Chinese-style bakeries or traditional snack shops.
An acquired taste for foreigners, chicken biscuits have very complex flavours and textures. The outside is sweet and crunchy, while the filling is chewy and savoury. The ingredients that go into chicken biscuits might surprise you: the filling is made by combining fatty pork, preserved vegetables and spices, which is then wrapped in sweet dough and baked. Reputedly the invention of a nobleman’s maid in the Qing Dynasty, chicken biscuits are now a popular snack for people from all walks of life in Hong Kong.
Where to find it: Maltose crackers are harder to find, but some specialty snack shops in older districts, such as Sham Shui Po, still sell them.
The staple snack of many children in the fifties and sixties, the maltose cracker is everything a snack should be: savoury AND sweet, and ideal for eating on the go. A generous helping of maltose is sandwiched between two saltine crackers and propped up by chopsticks to form this snack. It might be a bit messy to eat, but it’s something you wouldn’t tire of anytime soon.
Deep-fried and stuffed three treasures
Where to find it: In most snack stalls around Hong Kong
A savoury addition to the list, the ‘three treasures’ usually refer to eggplant, chili peppers and tofu, although some snack stalls might use red sausages or green peppers instead. A filling of pork and fish meat is stuffed into the treasure, which is then deep-fried in oil. If done well, the filling should be pleasantly chewy, with a 1:3 ratio of stuffing to vegetable.
Karen Chan is a local English copywriter who churns out social posts and taglines for a living. Inspired by her fellow copywriter, she has discovered the joy of working out, and is currently on a quest to live as healthily as her sweet tooth allows. In her spare time, she also loves trying new cafés and restaurants around the city.