On Tianjin’s famous shipinjie food street, a haven for local specialties and common street food alike, one can find treats such as the beloved jianbing and goubuli, but most importantly–at least according to aficionados–is the mahua.
Mahua are fried dough twists that are a local specialty of Tianjin, their origin is said to date back 2000 years to a festival where people were forbidden to use fire, and therefore forbidden to cook for the three days when it was celebrated. One of the solutions of those celebrating the festival was to fry dough with honey a few days in advance, the resulting snack had a long shelf life and was the perfect treat for a festival. Since then, mahua has changed from it’s original form to the mahua people enjoy today. They are still twisted dough sticks but they are now fried in peanut oil and sweetened with rock sugar. They also sometimes have additional spices and fillings including sesame, osmanthus, as well as others but are still said to have a shelf-life of several months making them perfect for unexpected guests.
Biting into mahua isn’t easy and the particular mahua that were reviewed were small (with larger mahua as big as one’s leg). Mahua are also diffcult to bite into, it’s not just that mahua are crunchy, they are dense and have an intriguing texture reminiscent of friend noodles. They can be compared to a churro in texture if the churro was crunchier and instead of being filled with air in the middle, there was just layer after layer of dense crunchy dough. As for the taste, the oil does lead it a taste reminiscent of peanuts (something for those with peanut allergies to keep in mind) as well as sesame seeds and sugar. Beware however, the supposed longevity of the snack can mean that to some palates, the oil tastes a tad rancid, and frequently leads to a disappointing result.
photos courtesy of hbrc.com