For many Chinese, nothing says winter more than the baked sweet potato stalls by the street side. Chilling in the cold wind, you can hardly resist the fragrance and radiant warmth from a heated tin barrel on top of which lay the plump tubers. The vendor calls out to you, “烤红薯了，又香又甜的烤红薯！” (Kǎo hóngshǔ le, yòu xiāng yòu tián de kǎo hóngshǔ!), and before you know it, you are holding one of the delicious snacks, breaking it into halves to enjoy the steam rising up to your cold cheeks. Bite into the golden sweetness, and you will be powered up in no time.
As a traditional winter street snack, baked sweet potatoes are enjoyed across the country, but with different names. It is generally called “红薯” (hóngshǔ) because of its red skin, but if people refer to it as “白薯” (báishǔ), “地瓜” (dìguā) or 甘薯(gānshǔ), they are talking about the same thing. It is a common snack that everybody can afford to enjoy — for only 3 to 4 kuai, you can get a big piece of the sweet delight. Sometimes, it is so inexpensive that people suspect the sweet potato vendors are in constant poverty, and use the term “卖红薯” (mài hóngshǔ, sell sweet potatoes) to refer to job positions that do not pay much. There is a humorous saying, “if an official does not put the people first, he might as well go home and sell sweet potatoes” (当官不为民做主，不如回家卖红薯 dāng guān bù wéi mín zuòzhǔ, bùrú huí jiā mài hóngshǔ). That is to say that an official does not deserve his salary if he is not responsible for his people.
Rich in starch, protein cellulose and vitamins, sweet potato has been awarded the title of “longevity food.” Not only served on the tables of North Americans during the holiday seasons, the sweet potato has also incorporated in Chinese cuisine as follows:
Sweet Potato Porridge (红薯粥 Hóngshǔ Zhōu)
Popular among women who want to lose weight or keep their figures, sweet potato porridge is also believed to have positive effects on an irregular digestive system. It is easy to make with a stew pot. Ingredients include one sweet potato,80g rice and two teaspoons of sugar. The cooking instructions are as follows: pick a plump sweet potato, peel it and dice it into small chunks. Immerse the rice for half an hour and put it into a stew pot with the sweet potato chunks. Pour in approximately three times the amount of water as the ingredients and turn on medium heat. After the water has started to boil, lower the heat and keep boiling for 20 minutes. Add the sugar in the final stage and stir evenly before serving. Now you have a bowl of hot, sweet porridge in front of you.
Candied Sweet Potato (拔丝红薯 Básī Hóngshǔ)
This dessert dish involves a particular technique known as basi (拔丝), which occurs when you melt sugar and mix it with fruits or tubers. Basi literally means “draw strings,” because when you pick up the hot, sugar-coated morsels on the plate with chop sticks, you will definitely draw some strands of sugar. The dish has to be served hot along with a separate bowl of cold water. Immerse a glazed tidbit into the cold water and the sugar coating will harden and become immediately crispy. Each bite will consist of the tenderness and warmth of the filling on the inside with a cool crisp layer on the outside.
Here’s what you need for this dish:
250g sweet potatoes
100g rock candy
500g cooking oil
These steps are a little more complicated than you would normally see in a family dish:
- Peel the sweet potatoes and dice into cubes that are 3cm wide. Be sure to wash the cubes in clean water to get rid of the starch on the surface, otherwise they will turn black when you fry them.
- Heat the cooking oil to about 60 °C, and fry the sweet potato chunks until their surface turns a light golden brown。
- Now, here is the delicate part with the sugar that you have to pay special attention to, or even take few practice rounds ahead of time. Pour out the cooking oil but keep the remains without cleaning out the pan. Add in the rock candy with few table spoons of water, and stir constantly with low heat until it melts. When the liquid sugar turns golden and bursting with small bubbles, keep the heat low (or the sugar will turn bitter) and put in the fried sweet potato chunks
- Stir fast until even, and serve hot.