I have the worst firecracker hangover headache today. After six nights of interrupted sleep, I can tell you that my Chinese neighbours’ favourite times to let off fireworks are –
1. Ten minutes after I fall asleep
2. Half an hour before I usually wake up
3. Between 1am and 2am
I can’t fool them by going to bed later and getting up earlier, or by turning out all the lights and pretending I’m not home. What I really need, other than coffee and aspirin and about 10 hours more sleep, is a double-glazed apartment 50 floors above the ground, where the muted sound of firecrackers fifty floors below will be no louder than the coffee machine starting up.
Also, I wish that the f***er whose car alarm goes off beneath my bedroom window EVERY SINGLE TIME a cracker goes off, will come home to find the battery dead (oh! I wish!!) and all his pot plants dead, and the paint on his car pockmarked by falling debris.
Enough ranting. On to food. At least Chinese New Year comes with some fantastic street snacks that make up for all the sleep deprivation. After years of shift work I can tell you that it’s not coffee that wakes up your brain, but SUGAR. These sugary little beauties are called Crystal Sugar Hawthorns (bīng táng shān zhā 冰糖山楂) and I wish they were available all year round, but that’s what makes them so special.
Hawthorns are a member of the rose family and the red berries are the size of a large, round, rosehip. Eaten raw they are incredibly sour and quite astringent, but rolled in oil then confectioner’s sugar and left to dry gives the crunchy, sour hawthorns a crisp sweet white crust. Like a miniature sugared toffee apple.
They’re quite hard to find, I bought mine from a tiny stall at the Yu Gardens. 5 yuan/bag.