Comfort food for the soul in winter

By Xu Junqian in Shanghai ( China Daily ) Updated: 2016-01-09 09:10:33

Comfort food for the soul in winter

Zhang Rongxiang says that his chestnuts are especially delicious because of their origin which he has kept a secret. [Photo by Gao Erqiang/China Daily]

There is no snack more popular with the Shanghainese during winter than a humble bag of freshly roasted chestnuts

Xiangxiang Chestnut, a tiny shop selling roasted chestnuts, is situated in the same neighborhood as Angelina, an elegant Parisian tea house that advertises itself as the favorite cafe of the late Coco Chanel, as well as being the most authoritative patisserie for Mont Blanc, a pureed chestnut cake.

Business at Angelina has been brisk since its opening last year, with an endless stream of customers entering and leaving the bright and spacious outlet during weekends. However, Zhang Rongxiang, the owner of Xiangxiang Chestnut, believes that the cafe's popularity could just be "a flash in the pan", while his offerings, on the other hand, have for decades remained as the perennial favorite among locals.

Come winter, chestnut vendors can be found at almost every street corner in downtown Shanghai. A distinctive aroma fills the air and it is accompanied by the sound of shoveling as vendors toss the chestnuts in woks filled with black sand, oil and malt sugar in order to remove the dust and dirt from the shells.

A popular snack

The chestnuts in Shanghai are no different in look and taste from those one would find in other parts of the world, but what sets them apart is the massive popularity they enjoy among the locals who see these nuts as a source of comfort. Many Shanghainese can be found braving the rains and bone-chilling winds during winter just to queue for this humble snack.

"It's not about the food. The idea of walking with a bag of sizzling chestnuts in hand and cracking them open later for the plump, golden yellow kernel is a romantic and alluring notion for many locals," says Jiang Yizheng, a food guru in Shanghai who is also known among her readers as Zhijiansha, which in Chinese means "a handful of dust".

"Enjoying chestnuts is akin to celebrating the arrival of winter, just like having ice cream in summer. And the fact that Shanghai doesn't grow its own chestnuts makes this commodity even more cherished," she adds.

It is estimated that a total of 1,500 tons of chestnuts are shipped to Shanghai every year from Qianxi, Hebei province, dubbed the "hometown of China's chestnuts". However, industry sources believe that the amount of chestnuts consumed by the city's 24-million population might actually be twice as much.

Zhang was tight-lipped about the source of his nuts, saying that only he and his wife are privy to this confidential information.

Previous Page 1 2 Next Page

Editor's Picks
Hot words

Most Popular