There’s a snap and crackle in the air, when the popcorn man is in town

It’s a collective childhood memory shared by the post-80s generation—when the popcorn vendor arrives in the neighborhood and fires up his machine by the street. Everyone rushes home to fetch a bowl of rice or corn. Meanwhile, the vendor starts slow-rolling his popcorn machine over the fire—a black, metal, dangerous-looking vessel. A few minutes later, as a crowd watches nervously, a “ka-boom!” announces the arrival of sweet-smelling popcorn. Popcorn-making used to be a thrilling spectacle, not like today’s fast-food version involving microwaves and commercial breaks. With street vendors fast becoming a thing of the past, and a new generation developing more diverse snacking habits, is there still a place for popcorn made the old-school way?

In 2013, Discovery Channel’s “Mythbusters” set out to find the quickest way to make popcorn, and imported a Chinese machine, which they referred to as “mysterious Oriental ordnance.” Video footage of the show’s host wearing a bomb-proof suit, letting the popcorn explode all over the room instead of into a bag, was widely mocked in China. “Their methods are all wrong,” tutted one viewer on Youku.com. Another commented: “Is there seriously the need to wear a bomb suit? It’s an insult to the memories of the Chinese people.” Still, other commentators were glad to be reminded of one of their favorite childhood activities.

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author Liu Jue

Liu Jue is the co-managing editor of The World of Chinese Magazine. She has a Master of Arts in Communication from Middle Tennessee State University, and a Bachelor of Arts from Minzu University. She has been working for TWOC since 2012. She is interested in covering history, traditional culture, and Chinese language.

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