米香

Biking around an older part of Taipei’s 三民 neighborhood I wasn’t too familiar with, on a market street with shops and food vendors, I see an old truck with a raised blue awning parked near the corner of the intersection. It was a shot-from-guns puffed rice treat maker!

He put a scoop of uncooked rice into a cast iron pressure vessel and cook it over a burner for a while, and then suddenly release the pressure with a loud “boom,” capturing the now steaming puffed rice into wire mesh hopper. In the meantime, he had been turning some brown sugar into caramel syrup, which he then combined with the rice in a large aluminum bowl, stirring furiously with a wooden pestle. He then pressed the viscous mass into a shallow wooden frame and flattened the top with a large polished steel roller. Using a sharp knife, and a long wooden ruler which keyed into notches on the sides of the frame, he cut the mass into bricks, all of which he would then stack into a single clear plastic bag for sale.

He already had a dozen or so bags ready to go, some plain rice and sugar flavored, along with a few other flavors: some looked darker, probably mixed with buckwheat, and some included chunks like peanuts, or raisins.

I was eyeing one of the buckwheat flavor, and asking him the cost per bag, when a fashionable young lady with her daughter in grammar-school uniform also started shopping. The price was more than reasonable, but a single bag contained two dozen large brick-sized pieces, and she asked if she could buy half a bag. The vendor politely replied that a full bag was his smallest quantity available. So, I spoke up and asked her if she wanted to split a bag with me, and after a few seconds of embarrassment she agreed and the vendor was happy to give us another bag. So I gave her half the cost, almost two dollars, and she waited with money in hand. But the vendor just continued working, paying us no attention as he completed the rolling and cutting and stacking. I grew impatient and said something to get his attention, until in the end I realized that he was simply making the new batch just for us! “They’re better if you let them cool a bit before eating,” he said, handing us a each our portion.

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