Puffed rice is a traditional sweet that’s been sold on Taiwan streets for generations. For many of us, it’s now a childhood memory. There are few puffed rice vendors on the streets today. But some seasoned artisans hang on, including one third-generation puffed rice maker in Kaohsiung. Wei Ho-li still uses an oven that’s more than 50 years old, following methods developed by his grandfather.
A clang and a puff of white steam rising. That’s the sound of rice puffing. Time for the chef to quickly add the boiling hot malt syrup to the pan.
The rice and syrup are stirred thoroughly so each grain is coated in sweet syrup. The puffed rice cake is pressed flat and then cut into blocks to create that crispy, sweet – but not too sweet – treat that we all know and love.
It tastes great, the smell’s lovely, it’s not too sweet, it’s crispy. The peanuts are very fresh. I don’t feel safe buying this just anywhere, but his are all very fresh.
It’s made right here by the roadside. Would it really be puffed rice without that soundscape of the chef shouting and the pan clanging? But times are changing, and this treat, once ubiquitous on streets all over Taiwan, is now a vanishingly rare sight.
Puffed rice vendor
I watched my grandpa making it when I was a child. I didn’t study it specially, I just learned by watching. Everyone brought their rice and lined up, and my grandpa was always there making it. Then afterwards my dad made it. I started when my dad’s health got bad, continuing the family business, passing it on.
This Kaohsiung puffed rice business is now three generations old. You can see from the hand-crank oven just how traditional its methods are. The Wei family is not just passing on the taste of old Taiwan, but also the memories and the way of life of those who went before.
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