The wife, sitting on the back tray of the truck, is kept incredibly busy snapping off lengths of the bright yellow sticks into even pieces. Her husband, meanwhile, is taking care of sales and marketing, spruiking loudly and pulling a crowd with yells of ‘Yumi Bang! 3 yuan a bag! 3 yuan a bag!’ Further down the street I can spy big bags of yellow in nearly every hand – they’re obviously very popular.
Now this is real street food. Coming home from the wet market this afternoon there was a small crowd gathering around this blue truck. This entrepreneurial husband and wife team had it all sorted – the back of their truck had become a temporary factory for making corn sticks (yùmǐ bàng 玉米棒), a very light and crunchy tubular snack made from ground corn. I’ve seen these motorised snack set-ups before in Shanghai – on roadsides, beside bridges, next to fly-overs. They are the most extraordinary mini snack food factories you’ve ever seen.
This is the basic set-up. A funnel made from a cut-off plastic water bottle is taped upside down to a banging motor driven by a generator. The fan belt spins noisily at a great rate of knots, out in the open, centimetres from your nose. The corn, coarsely ground (there’s a spare bottle of it in the foreground), is funnelled through a heated nozzle where the corn puffs up, sticks together, and is extruded in the shape of a long, narrow tube. With the machine going full throttle it spits out about a metre a second, just the most incredible thing to watch happening in front of your eyes.
This corn hose-pipe, by the time it gets to be about three metres long, is cool enough to handle and the lady sitting back there snaps it off into regular lengths, which go into plastic bags ready to be sold. I guess they stick around until they run out of corn or the police move them on.
So what do they taste like? I think it’s more about the texture than the taste – they’re super-crunchy and very light, shattering into pieces as you bite into them, and tasting of toasted corn. Like a chinese prawn cracker, they stick to your tongue as they dissolve, creating another interesting texture. I quite like them, but not as much as I enjoy watching them being made! No doubt in the future, as the authorities crack down further on unlicensed food producers like these, you will only be able to buy yumi bang in the supermarket, which won’t be the same at all.
The Shanghai Street Food Series
Number 24 Guotie – potsticker dumplings
Number 25 Nuomi Cai Tou – fried clover pancakes