This kind of food can be easily found all around Shanghai, it is sold both in stores and on streets. It originally comes from Sichuan , where it has been enjoyed for couple of centuries. The snack is present in all of China in many forms and variations, which is in a great extent due to the simplicity of its ingredients. The simplest form of 米花糖 (mǐhuǎtáng), where rice is mixed with dissolved sugar. It costs only 10 yuan per pack. The pack contains around 350g. Price might vary depending on the ingredients.
Ingredients: 米花糖 has many variations. The simplest kind is made out of white rice to which sugar dissolved in water is added. The flavor of the snack can be modified depending on what ingredients are used and in which quantities. Some people like to add oil, dried fruits, honey or nuts on top of sugar.
Cooking Method: Before any other ingredient is added, the rice must be puffed. The two most common ways are deep frying or dry puffing, which is done with a “popcorn machine” (爆米花机 bàomǐhuājī). The rice is fried in a scalding hot oil; it takes from 15 to 25 seconds for rice to puff if the temperature is right. The “popcorn machine” is mostly seen on streets. While using this machine is a healthier way of puffing rice, the temperature and the pressure of the cylindrical metal container must be kept under control. The metal container is constantly rotated, while heated by burning coal. The act of rotating the container helps evenly distribute the temperature inside. Because the container is sealed, the pressure inside rises with the increasing temperature. When the rice is puffed and the container is opened, the pressure creates a small explosion and the rice bursts into a “bag” placed over the container. Puffing rice with the “popcorn machine” takes between 8 and 10 minutes.
Puffed rice is mixed with sugar that has been dissolved in water, then cut into small brick like pieces. One can add dried fruit pieces or nuts on top of sugar. Cutting the mixture is usually done on a lower temperature, where the sugar creates a stronger bond between rice grains.
History: 米花糖 is believed to come from Sichuan Pujiang. Traditionally 米花糖 that comes from Pujiang is made with lard oil, which gives it a characteristic taste and aroma. 米花糖 was first recorded during the Qing dynasty, around two hundred years ago. Nowadays 米花糖 and its variations can be found even in Hong Kong, where it was brought during the Japanese war.
In the beginning of 2007 a 米花糖 Museum has been opened in Pujiang, Sichuan. It is the first and the only museum that focuses on 米花糖.
Possible Variations: Yìmǐ 薏米– puffed barley (5rmb for around 200g)
Bàomǐhuā 爆米花 – popcorn (5rmb for around 200g)
Yùmǐtiáo 玉米条 – corn sticks are usually pre-made at home with “rice stick machine” 米棍机 (5 rmb around 200g)
Puffed rice is a typical Shanghai snack and a part of old Shanghai memory. Usually, the vendor places a bag of rice and the shaking furnace on a tricycle. In the afternoon, he will rides to the head of the “lòng táng (弄堂)“, which is a typical Shanghai alley, and start to peddle. They have their special tune, which goes as “bào–chǎo-mǐ-huā–lou—.” in Shanghai dialect. The end “lou” is a necessary modal particle and it has to last long enough. However, the huge sound of the puffering is always the best advertisement. When children hear the sound, they will carry a small bag of rice and a spoon of cooking oil to find the vendor. When the pressure is ready, the vendor will notice everyone. He shouts, “Coming!” Then everyone covers their ears and retreat a few steps away. The sound is like having a tire punctured. Nowadays, the peddle of the vendor cannot be heard anymore, but the huge sound remains. You can still find the vendors of the puffed rice in the street especially at night. Just follow the sound.
Ingredients: You only need a small bag of rice, sugar and a spoon of oil for a big bag of puffed rice. However, the machine for the puffed rice can also be used to puff other things. Some vendor also puffs beans, corns and rice cakes. You can also require the vendors to add your spices into it. The recipe can be creative according to you.
Cooking Method: The mechanism of making the puffed rice is quite simple. First you open the container and pour the rice and oil into it. If you like sweet puffed rice, you can also add more sugar into it. Then you seal the container and start to heat it. The vendor controls the air bellow by one hand and shakes the iron furnace by the other hand. You can tell the pressure by the piezometer attached to the furnace. When the pointer arrives at the high pressure area, the vendor will notify everybody to get ready. You need to cover the two endings tightly with bags as soon as possible. Finally the show ends with the huge sound and white appetizing puffed rice.
History: Puffed Rice was invented in Wu prefecture (now western Zhejiang Province) in the Song Dynasty. The earliest record of the puffed rice is written in the book “Record of Wu Prefecture” by Chengda Fan. Originally, this kind of food was especially cooked during the Spring Festival for divination purpose. In Song Dynasty, it was made on the day of the Lantern Festival. Because the utensil for the puffed rice at that time was not sealed and weather you could get the rice puff was all by chances. The utensil is called “fǔ (釜)”, which is the origin of the cauldron. It was placed on the stove and heated with wood fire. Thus, the one who got more puffed rice was regarded as the luckiest one. After the westernization and modernization, people invented the sealed iron shaking furnace to make puffed rice. It is also said that the British invented the similar machine to make popcorn and then they brought it to China by the merchants later. Before the Open and Reform, when Chinese people still live a poor life, people buy rice according to food coupon so they do not own much rice for snack. Puffed rice is still a snack only for the Spring Festival. The great sound made by the puffing is the happiest thing for the children. With the development of Shanghai, more and more people are able to enjoy puffed rice at any time. However, fewer people are making puffed rice and it becomes a part of the memory for old Shanghai people.
Photo Credit to: https://www.flickr.com/photos/shizhao/6779948306