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Qingming snacks get flavorsome filling makeovers

March 01, 2019

With one month to go before the Qingming Festival, or the tomb-sweeping day, people are already eager for a taste of the seasonal delicacy — qingtuan (sweet green glutinous rice balls).

Restaurants are taking an innovative approach to the traditional taste with shredded chicken and bacon, as well as custard fillings on offer.

At Xing Hua Lou in Huangpu District, a queue formed on Wednesday afternoon for qingtuan with salted egg yolk and dried meat floss, and shredded chicken and bacon the most popular.

Wednesday was the first day when qingtuan with shredded chicken and bacon hit the shelves, and about 800 boxes of the new flavor, each with six qingtuan and costing 45 yuan (US$6.74), had been sold by noon, according to the restaurant’s operator.

“I bought a box of qingtuan with shredded chicken and bacon out of curiosity. It tastes delicious, just like having cream of mushroom soup,” said Xiao Dan, a glutinous rice ball fan in her 40s.

It has taken more than a year to develop and improve the new recipes, said Zhi Jing, assistant  manager of Xing Hua Lou, a restaurant that dates back to 1851. The filling contains shredded chicken, bacon, mushroom, shredded bamboo shoots and cheese.

“It is unusual to include Western ingredients like cheese in Chinese pastry,” said Zhi. “The filling such as bamboo shoots, and fresh wormwood leaves where the green color comes from are seasonal and carefully selected.”

She said the restaurant is considering putting a limit on the number of boxes that each customer can buy of new flavors, based on first-day demand.

Another hit at Xing Hua Lou is qingtuan with salted egg yolk and dried meat floss, about 30 million of them were sold last year.

Sunya Cantonese Restaurant on Nanjing Road Pedestrian Mall has several new tastes — creamy custard, crab meat and purple sweet potato with dried meat floss — this year.

About 1,000 qingtuan filled with custard are sold daily, according to executive chef Huang Renkang.

“New tastes are favored by younger customers, while traditional tastes such as red bean paste are more popular among the older crowd,” said Huang.

“It has not been easy to come up with the new recipe because the amount of custard and the steaming time must be strictly controlled to ensure its taste and prevent the custard leaking,” said Huang.

“I like custard much more than red bean,” said Lily Chen, a tourist in her 20s. “Healthy taste with less oil is better.”

A filling based on yanduxian, a Shanghai soup made with bamboo shoots and pork, and red bean paste are among the most popular at the restaurant.

About 7,000 yanduxian qingtuan were sold on Sunday, according to Huang.

“I want to try yanduxian because I’m bored with flavors like red bean paste,” said Yang Limin, 55, a Shanghai resident. 

“Red bean paste filling is the one I have eaten since my childhood, and it is still my favorite,” said Yu Juan, a 43-year-old Shanghai resident.

The sales peak of qingtuan is expected from mid-March, according to Huang. 

This year’s Qingming Festival falls on April 5, and qingtuan is the must-eat of the day.