I first realized other peoples' curiosity about Chinese snacks when I went to a Chinese grocery store on Olive Boulevard in St. Louis, MO with a group of friends from the U.S. They wanted to try the unfamiliar but seemingly delicious snacks lining shelf after shelf, but did not know where to start.
I was inspired to create a guide to five classic Chinese snacks perfect for starting a journey into traditional Chinese cuisine. They're practically universal in China, popular across age groups and demographics, so you're bound to enjoy at least a few (if not all!) of them.
1. Wei Long Latiao Spicy Gluten (卫龙辣条)
This is unarguably the number one snack of the five. As Latiao is one of the most affordable snacks, sold for 0.5 yuan when I was in elementary school (equivalent to 7 cents), it gained great popularity among children of all socioeconomic backgrounds. Recently, this particular snack has become trendy once more for Chinese high school and college students seeking to recreate childhood memories.
Before even tasting it, you can smell the spiciness the moment you open the packet. Made mainly with flour, Latiao is chewy and oily. The strong flavor will stimulate your senses and deliver your tastebuds straight to middle China cities famous for spicy food.
2. White Rabbit Creamy Candy (大白兔奶糖)
This treat is popular during the Lunar New Year Festival back in China (which we also celebrate at Wash U!). There is no need to chew the candy, although it may seem hard when you first taste it. You simply need to leave it in your mouth and wait for the rice paper wrapper to melt. In seconds, the candy will become a rich and creamy delight.
3. WangZai QQ Gummy (旺仔QQ糖)
Unlike the White Rabbit Creamy Candy, this one has eight flavors in total, including pineapple, blueberry, green apple, peach and lychee. The gummy is juicy and strongly fruity. It's a cheap and often addictive snack—it's easy to finish the whole packet in one sitting. It is different from a U.S. gummy because of the strong fragrance recalling the actual flavor of the fruit.
4. Want-Want Rice Crackers (旺旺雪饼/鲜贝)
5. Instant Dry Noodles (干脆面)
These are instant noodles that you can eat straight from the bag, no cooking required. The only thing you need to do is add the seasoning powder directly into the noodles to make for a crispy and appetizing snack. It was often considered the "best" substitute for my high school's dry white rice, overcooked pork and stale veggies.
You can easily get all of these snacks from Amazon, Yamibuy or grocery stores in Chinese neighborhoods (like Olive Boulevard in St. Louis). Although these only constitute a small portion of the wide variety of snacks originating in China, they are so highly representative that they're likely to bring on a strong sense of nostalgia in almost every Chinese student studying at an American university.
If you're at all interested in Chinese food or culture or just want to try a different snack food (as opposed to America's classic potato chips or sandwich cookies, for example), then you definitely cannot miss these.