It's that time of the Lunar New Year again! Have you been summoned to help on New Year's shopping?
Speaking of New Year Essentials, it's gotta be the DiHua Street of Taipei's Dadaocheng business district.
Dadaocheng's trading activity started around the end of Qing dynasty to the early stage of Japanese Occupation, mainly focusing on North&South groceries and teas. After 1945, the street becomes the wholesaler center for Groceries, Chinese Medicine, and Textiles. Most of the buildings still have their traditional looks, not only recording the history of Taipei but also Taiwan's history of international trading and business development. Now Dadaocheng has integrated the traditional structure and it's culturally creative content, the area has attracted a new crowd of tourist coming for its historic and archaic vibe. Not to mention the craziness of families doing New Year's Shopping around the Lunar New Year week. Barely any room to even turn your shoulders, DiHua Street's crowd of people and the different dried goods sold in the store can definitely represent something unique of Taipei.
Whether you're a prepared buyer with lists and deals ready, or a demo person that's hopping in at the right time, or even just a tourist stopping by to experience the Lunar New Year feel, DiHua Street has something for everyone. Rows after rows of cooked food and dried goods ready to lure you, store shouting out sale and bargaining on this side, countless signature items and tastings, all of these asking you the customer to stop and pay with every dime you've got in the wallet. In my honest opinion, it's going to take some effort for you and your wallet to survive DiHua Street during the Festival and New Year times.
Muah Lao is Taiwan's traditional rice crackers, with the name coming from its Taiwanese Hokkien pronunciation. These tasty snacks are made from a mixture of rice and taro flour. The dough is then cut into chunks and deep-fried to have the puffy look. Then the puffy dough is coated with sugar and dipped into sesame to finish coating the outer layer becoming "Muah Lao". If dipped into the crispy rice(similar to rice krispies without marshmallow), then then it becomes "Mi Lao", if dipped in peanut powder then it becomes "Tudou Lao" Practically it's the dough deep-fried then dipped into sugar and different coats to differentiate the flavor. Regardless of the variety, Muah Laos are considered essential sweet tributes when worshipping the sky god. In the past, because of the complicated manufacturing process, Muah Laos weren't cheap and were rarely seen aside from festival times. For me personally, it's my childhood taste of sharing dessert with my grandfather, smelling the sweetness and tasting the soft gooey texture in the mouth, becoming an must-have item during the Lunar New Year.
The Nuts Platter
In the good-fortune slangs of Lunar New Year, eating seeds such as sunflower seeds are implied as having a good life(Taiwanese Hokkien reference). Plus the marketing strategy of these dried good stores, the nuts platter and gift boxes have become a staple for Lunar New Year and other types of Chinese festivals as well. The platter often consists of watermelon seeds seasoned with licorice, pumpkin seeds, pistachios or even cashews can be mix and match for individual's preferences on the platter. Remember that cracking open the seeds and eating it single handedly was a magical trick, until I grew up and felt that kids are truly innocent.
Nougats and Chestnut Candies
These two honestly don't have a clear connection to Lunar New Year as far as I know. However, the level of popularity among the society has elevated these two sweets into widely known souvenirs during the Lunar New Year. Even though these are no longer considered limited edition, it's still the staple on the Lunar New Year tables. The colorful cellophane wrappers are corresponding to the festival feel, and the edible rice paper on the inside are definitely something that pack its own loads of fun~
photo credit: http://blog.xuite.net/sweet_michell212/wretch
These snacks are the common staples in my family during the Lunar New Year, perfect for friends and families to come chat and social!
With this piece finished and my drools out of control, it's time to shop this weekend!
Translated by Nasha