Just as countries are defined by their regional cuisines, I really believe that cultures can be identified by their snacks! I grew up on breakfasts bought off of street carts and out of makeshift holes-in-the-wall on the ground floor of old apartment walkups. I was delighted and slightly salivating at the prospect of the same experience when I found out that Chinese street food has remained the same. It's cheaper if you bring your own eggs to the vendor for omelets. The cook spreads a flour mixture onto a sizzling round griddle, cracks the eggs into the middle, and folds and refolds the whole thing as it crisps. Thin deep fried slices of dough are added to form a multi-layered and multi-textural burrito omelet of sorts. Spices are added according to your individual taste tolerance. It's a filling, spicy, slightly sweet, and incredibly savory treat. Another breakfast staple is sweet and sour soup. It consists of cubed tofu, spices, and other edible roots mired in a sizzling hot broth. It can be ladled into bowls if you intend to finish it off nearby, or you can bring your own canteen.
Different countries have certain ingredients they rely upon to make an incredible assortment of sweet treats. For instance, Mexico is known for tamarind candy in a variety of forms: soft and chewy, hard and shiny, dusted on mango lollipops, or pulpy with pits. China uses hawthorn fruit along with a thick, smokily sweet, and honey-like liquid to coat fruit kebabs or form into intricate animal shapes. Enormous dragons are the most in-demand of street vendors. It's a joy to watch (and video) too.
Fried dough is also incredibly popular in China, although a doughnut is not the end product. It's mainly made into breakfast foods and crunchy, greasy, twisted rolls, usually sprinkled with sesame seeds. More often than not, food stands and carts will sell omelets, soup, and fried doughy sustenance in conjunction. Breakfast of my dreams.
There are, of course, other types of sweet snacks. Dried fruit is big, and I'm not just referring to dates or prunes. I used to buy packets of dried peach slices from Chinatown in NYC where I used to volunteer. It's not what you'd imagine; they looked like thin slivers of tree bark. One of my colleagues in fact told me it tasted like sweet and sour tree bark. I didn't care; I loved it! Meats and eggs are also common snacks. Smoked kebabs of lamb, beef, and chicken abound everywhere. It's tough being a vegetarian in China! Smoked little globs of eggs on sticks are usually cooked alongside the meats. They were perfectly round and tiny compared to chicken eggs. To this day, I don't know from which bird those eggs come from. Or if they're even birds. Tell me about some of your cultural favorites!