Classic childhood Chinatown snacks


Irene Zheng

Various different Asian snacks fill the snack section at the Welcome Food Center. These snacks can also be found in other supermarkets in Chinatown like Jusgo and H-Mart.

My eyes scour the shelves for snacks to bring home as I wander through the aisles of Welcome Food Center.

Skipping past the seafood area with sleeping lobsters, frantic tilapia and feisty crabs, and past the produce section filled with piles of plump snow pears, green-speckled kabocha squashes and mung bean sprouts, I arrive at the snacks section.

Familiar items jump out at me. Dried squid, White Rabbit, coffee candy and guava candy to name a few.

Though they’re all delicious and fierce contenders for the title of best snacks of Chinatown, none of them come close to reaching the ranks of Bin Bin Rice Crackers, haw flakes or Triko hot peas in terms of classic childhood Chinatown snacks.

A pack Bin Bin Rice Crackers like this contains 12 individually wrapped sets. In each set there are two rice crackers. (Irene Zheng)

Bin Bin Rice Crackers

The most iconic crackers to be found in Chinatown.

As a staple of my childhood, I remember eating Bin Bin Rice Crackers on weekends in Chinese school and especially during car rides home from Chinatown. The oval crackers come wrapped in golden criss-cross wrappers.

Packaged in two, each cracker is around a fourth of an inch thick, and their crunch is music to the ears. The original-flavored crackers are mildly seasoned with soy sauce powder. They’re not too salty since the rice cracker itself balances out the seasoning, and they keep you reaching for the next package.

As rice crackers, they’re light and airy, perfect as an afterschool snack or before a sporting event. They also come in different flavors: seaweed, icing snow and coconut milk to name a few.

Haw flakes

A pack of miniature sized haw flakes. Haw flavored candies and snacks are common in Chinatown. (Irene Zheng)

Haw flakes are flaky, fruity snacks made with the hawthorn fruit. They’re pinkish brown discs that come stacked in cylindrical wrapping, like a stack of coins. They come in small and large sizes, and their bright pink packaging makes them stand out in the packed shelves of Chinatown supermarkets.

Depending on your mood, they’re perfect to eat one by one or to gobble all at once. They aren’t too sweet, which is the epitome of compliments, and crumble right in your mouth.

For those of you who like stronger flavors, haw fruit rolls are a must-buy. They’re dark brown and slightly translucent when rolled out. They come in long, log-like rolls and short, stumpier rolls, both of which taste delicious.

The rolls are around an eighth of an inch thick with an easy bite, unlike thin, hard-to-bite fruit leathers. They’re slightly sour with a sweet aftertaste that lingers after you eat the whole roll. They’re slightly tart and taste similar to craisins.

To really savor the haw fruit rolls, roll them out like you would for a Fruit Roll-Up for greater surface area.

This package of Triko hot green peas contains multiple smaller packets of the spicy, roasted peas. They also come in different flavors like mustard green and garlic. (Irene Zheng)

Triko hot green peas

If you don’t enjoy eating vegetables or peas, I promise these will make you enjoy them. They don’t taste anything like traditionally cooked bland peas.

These hot peas are roasted and well-seasoned with pepper and garlic, the first two flavors that jump out. They’re crunchy, spicy and incredibly binge-able. Though I have a low spice tolerance, the empty packets start piling up pretty quickly. I can’t help it, the spice keeps me munching.

The main package contains many small, snack-size packets, making it easy to bring anywhere and share with others. Packed with flavor, they’re a great snack to keep you awake when you feel drowsy or in between long tests.

For those who want something to really challenge their spice tolerance, Triko Foods Co., Ltd. also has ultra spicy green peas, along with garlic green peas and mustard green peas.

Aloe vera juice from the Welcome Food Center. They’re green and bigger than the average-sized bottle, so quite easy to spot. (Irene Zheng)

Aloe vera juice

I know juice is not technically a snack, but aloe vera juice is the perfect drink to go with these snacks. It’s refreshing, sweet and contains aloe vera chunks — think aloe vera-flavored boba.

As a juice, it is rather sweet, but it’s also healthier compared to sodas, and honestly, tastier too.

Aloe vera juice comes bottled in green, transparent 1.5 liter bottles, so it’s impossible to miss them. At supermarkets in Chinatown, you can often find them standing on top of the island freezers along with various other fruit drinks.