While American-style chips and cookies have become popular all over the world, China's traditional snack culture still survives. Originally referred to as "light refreshments," these small dishes include a range of fruits, candies, dumplings, buns, soups and fried foods. They have historically been eaten at breakfast and throughout the day between meals, but traditional Chinese snacks can be enjoyed any time.
Chinese savory snacks take a wide variety of forms, many of which include rice or wheat flour. Steamed buns containing meat, vegetables or seafood are sold as "mantou" or "bao zi." Snack shops may also feature filled dumplings and savory noodle dishes. Many traditional Chinese snacks are deep fried, such as youtiao, or fried bread sticks. Deep fried shrimp crackers and fermented tofu are also popular.
Lightly sweet snacks are more common in Chinese cuisine than in North America. These foods include fresh fruit, dishes that contain glutinous or "sweet" rice, and lightly sweetened jellies. Grass jelly, a black gelatin-like snack food, tastes faintly of lavender and can be eaten on its own or mixed with syrups of various strengths to create sweet soups and drinks.
Some traditional Chinese snacks are very sweet, much like Western desserts. These foods are not necessarily eaten at the end of a meal, however. These include candy-coated fruit such as Chinese hawthorn on skewers, as well as sticky "glue puddings" made with sweetened glutinous rice. Sweet dumplings full of red or white bean paste are also popular.
Dim sum is a Cantonese tradition in which many tiny snacks are presented together as a meal. It includes both sweet and savory foods but usually does not involve rice. Common dim sum foods include meat or vegetable dumplings, steamed buns, fried chicken feet, meatballs and rice porridge. Sweets such as bean curd jelly, egg tarts and sweet water chestnut squares are also common. Fried rice or steamed rice in lotus leaves are also sometimes served, but this is considered to be a heavier meal.
- Origins of Chinese Food Culture; Qiu Yao Hong
- The Food of China; E. N. Anderson
- Eyewitness Travel Guides: Mandarin Chinese Visual Phrase Book; DK Publishing
- Cultural China: Grass Jelly
- Cultural China: Dim Sum
- Good Food: The Chinese Hawthorn
- Flavor & Fortune: Snack on the History of Chinese Snacks
- Photo Credit John Foxx/Stockbyte/Getty Images