China’s Best Winter Treats

China isn’t known for its sweets, but as the temperatures drop and the winter holidays approach, China’s best winter treats can be found all over the streets. Here’s a list of the best seasonal treats that you’ll find all over China in the winter.

1. Candied Fruit on a Stick (冰糖葫芦, Bīng-táng-hú-lu)

What better way to preserve fruit than covering it in sugar syrup that is hardened and chilled by the brisk air? Often pulled around on the back of the vendor’s bicycle, these treats can be found on any street corner in winter and offer a variety of candied fruit ranging from strawberries to crabapples, even tomatoes! Their bright colors make them popular with children, plus it’s always fun to eat from a stick. Once you know what to look for, it won’t take you long to spot these beautiful fruit sticks on any street in China during the winter.

2. Filled Glutinous Rice Balls (汤圆, Tāng-yuán)

Many people associate these balls with Chinese New Year, as this sweet treat is easy to find around the city in winter months. Carts and shops proudly display piles of these bright white balls covered in rice flour that are taken home to boil and enjoy with family and friends. They are typically filled with something sweet like peanuts or sesame paste. Their importance during the Chinese New Year season is due to their round shape, which symbolizes a family being close and held together.

Tip: Where to Find Rice Balls in Xian

Our favorite place to get Tāng yuán is nestled in a small alley in the Muslim district of Xian. Not only have they been hand making their balls for 30 years, but they also offer a small seating area where they will cook and serve them fresh onsite. They offer 5 flavors including black sesame, rose, and hawthorn. Our recommendation is to try one of each!

Directions: Head west from the Xian bell tower and turn right on GuangJi Bei Lu. Walk approx. one block until you reach a small alley called Hua Jie. Turn right and the shop will be on your right in about 20 meters.

3. Hawthorn Fruit Candy (山楂糖, Shān-zhā-táng)

We like to call this China’s Fruit-Rollup. The origin of these bright red blocks of chewy candy is often a mystery, but we managed to find an uncle in Xian who has been making this candy by hand for many years.

Hawthorn is a small, bright-red fruit similar to a crabapple. In China, it’s often mashed to create a paste and then sugar is added to form the candy you find on the street. They are also sometimes used in traditional Chinese medicine and are generally known to be good for your stomach and digestion. Their tart punch means that they need sugar before they are good enough to gorge on.

Tip: Where to Find Hawthorn Fruit Candy

This is commonly found on any bulk candy aisle in typical grocery stores everywhere in China. Although it’s quite hard nowadays, you can still find them freshly made during hawthorn season (fall and winter) in some places. Our favorite is the old uncle in Xian.

Directions: Head one block east of the Xian Hilton hotel on Xin Jie Street. This cart will be on the northwest corner of Xin Jie Street and Hua Yu Alley, across the street from the Yong xing fang street food market and the east city wall.

4. Roasted Chestnuts (糖炒栗子, táng-chǎo-lì-zi)

Roasted chestnut is a common winter street food in China. They are roasted with sand and sweet syrup, also called “sugar stir-fried chestnut”. You can find them easily on the streets, vendors usually have a big stirring machine that keeps them stirring with sand, during the stirring, they will keep adding sugar or syrup to sweeten the chestnuts.

5. Roasted Sweet Potatoes(烤红薯,Kǎo-Hóng-Shǔ)

Roasted sweet potatoes are northern Chinese people’s favorite winter treatment. Street vendors usually put sweet potatoes in a big “stove” and slowly roast them with incompletely-burned coal ashes. 

It is said that roasted sweet potatoes originally came in from Taiwan, it soon gained the favor of northern Chinese people as people are usually desperate to find something warm to eat in winter while traveling in bone-chilling wind. Nowadays, it’s not as easy to find them in the streets of big cities, but you can still find them at subway stalls, or at supermarket stalls.

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