First ‘China Experience’ post – China’s centuries old street snacks and popular fast food chain, Yong Ho soybean milk

Regarding my China Experience, which I will mostly write around the areas of food and nutrition (I will also include a bit of information about Chinese living as well, of course), I had decided that I would start from the very beginning. The first few days of my arrival in China when I started recording my encounter with the foods in China through taking some photos of the foods I ate.

China’s centuries old street snacks:

A steamer filled with sweet and glutinous corns, next to a metal barrel roaster with sweet potatoes placed on the top. Both of them propped firmly on top of a cart. Chinese characters translation from the left: “Eat… Roasted sweet potatoes… Shandong (province in China)”

Roasted Chinese sweet potatoes and steamed corn. The perfect pairing of roasted and steamed sweet-flavoured starchy foods.

(*It would also be a good idea to mention in my first Chinese post where I was staying in China for four months.

Shandong. A northern province in China, one hour plane ride away from Beijing. It is also close to the Chinese state of Inner Mongolia. Known as the birth place of the Confuscious.

Shandong Province is mostly known for being the birthplace of the Confuscious, and for its various pastry foods or 煎饼 jianbing. I was living in the city of Jinan, a medium-sized Chinese city with a modest amount of air pollution.)

Anyway, roasted sweet potatoes and steamed corns have been around on the typical Chinese streets for centuries. As can be seen in a scene of Ip Man (Hong Kong film about the Kung Fu legend, Ip Man) where the main characters grab a snack of roasted sweet potatoes at a stall outside the theatre. This movie was set from the early 1900s to 1940s.

A scene from Ip Man. Sweet potatoes or “Di gua” given out to labourers. The sweet flavours of these starchy potatoes can lift up the worst of spirits!

Why roasted sweet potatoes remain everlastingly Chinese people’s go-to snack foods I don’t know. It could be their distinctive flavourful and sweet taste, and the delicious combination of crispy outer skin and the soft interior (Although most people prefer not to eat the skin, I’m not one of them. It’s the best part!).

Sweet potatoes are sold according to their weight. One big piece would be about 5 yuan. Then the stall owner will put the potatoes in a small plastic bag for you.

Of course, like in many fast-developing countries, traditional foods are starting to go out of fashion, and the younger generation begins to prefer having Western-style fast foods or sweets like chocolates, etc.

Glutinous corn – soft enough to be broken without much force, by hands.
Glutinous corn – 100% no sugar. It is very difficult to find naturally unsweetened glutinous corn sold on the streets in Bangkok.
Roasted sweet potatoes, what it looks like whole.

However, I like how in China, relatively all-natural foods, dishes and snacks are still commonly eaten. For example, steamed corn or roasted sweet potatoes.

Why? One, because these simple snack foods are still much cheaper than snacks like a bag of chips or a bar of chocolate (by at least two times, comparing between weight and values). Two, from what I have observed, Chinese people have a bit of an interest in eating health foods.

Chinese people’s insistence on natural whole foods can be seen in this still-popular “fast-food chain”:

fast-food and soymilk chain restaurant.
Yongho – fast-food and soybean milk chain restaurant.

Imagine a soybean milk chain store opened in a Western country or even in Thailand? Would it even last longer than a month? And the store even offers ‘orginal’ or unsweetened version of soybean milk on their menu. This would not happen in Bangkok.

I feel like Chinese people’s preference in whole, real foods can be demonstrated in the type of foods served in their fast food restaurants such as Yong Ho, Li Xiansheng, etc. Most of which serves noodle-soup dishes, fried rice or pan-fried pastries.

Yong Ho meal – noodle soup with pot herb (picked veggies) and pork, and soy bean milk and deep fried dough sticks.

These fast-food meals aren’t the healthiest, but at least most of them they aren’t too greasy and includes a bit of legitimate veggies.

I will include a post regarding Chinese fast-food restaurants some time soon because I was quite fascinated with them myself. Chinese fast-food can’t be that much different from typical Chinese dishes though, because naturally they can be prepared very quickly anyway. Just cheaper with less meaty bits and more noodles.

Anyway, in conclusion, Chinese sweet potatoes are the best variety of sweet potatoes I have ever eaten (at least two times tastier than purple skinned Japanese potatoes, or red skinned Korean ones), and the healthiest street food I have ever tried. When in China, do not miss the chance to try out roasted sweet potatoes, available in most regions in China, and usually only during the Winter to Autumn months.

– Izzy