Puffed rice is a typical Shanghai snack and a part of old Shanghai memory. Usually, the vendor places a bag of rice and the shaking furnace on a tricycle. In the afternoon, he will rides to the head of the “lòng táng (弄堂)“, which is a typical Shanghai alley, and start to peddle. They have their special tune, which goes as “bào–chǎo-mǐ-huā–lou—.” in Shanghai dialect. The end “lou” is a necessary modal particle and it has to last long enough. However, the huge sound of the puffering is always the best advertisement. When children hear the sound, they will carry a small bag of rice and a spoon of cooking oil to find the vendor. When the pressure is ready, the vendor will notice everyone. He shouts, “Coming!” Then everyone covers their ears and retreat a few steps away. The sound is like having a tire punctured. Nowadays, the peddle of the vendor cannot be heard anymore, but the huge sound remains. You can still find the vendors of the puffed rice in the street especially at night. Just follow the sound.
You only need a small bag of rice, sugar and a spoon of oil for a big bag of puffed rice. However, the machine for the puffed rice can also be used to puff other things. Some vendor also puffs beans, corns and rice cakes. You can also require the vendors to add your spices into it. The recipe can be creative according to you.
The mechanism of making the puffed rice is quite simple. First you open the container and pour the rice and oil into it. If you like sweet puffed rice, you can also add more sugar into it. Then you seal the container and start to heat it. The vendor controls the air bellow by one hand and shakes the iron furnace by the other hand. You can tell the pressure by the piezometer attached to the furnace. When the pointer arrives at the high pressure area, the vendor will notify everybody to get ready. You need to cover the two endings tightly with bags as soon as possible. Finally the show ends with the huge sound and white appetizing puffed rice.
Puffed Rice was invented in Wu prefecture (now western Zhejiang Province) in the Song Dynasty. The earliest record of the puffed rice is written in the book “Record of Wu Prefecture” by Chengda Fan. Originally, this kind of food was especially cooked during the Spring Festival for divination purpose. In Song Dynasty, it was made on the day of the Lantern Festival. Because the utensil for the puffed rice at that time was not sealed and weather you could get the rice puff was all by chances. The utensil is called “fǔ (釜)”, which is the origin of the cauldron. It was placed on the stove and heated with wood fire. Thus, the one who got more puffed rice was regarded as the luckiest one. After the westernization and modernization, people invented the sealed iron shaking furnace to make puffed rice. It is also said that the British invented the similar machine to make popcorn and then they brought it to China by the merchants later. Before the Open and Reform, when Chinese people still live a poor life, people buy rice according to food coupon so they do not own much rice for snack. Puffed rice is still a snack only for the Spring Festival. The great sound made by the puffing is the happiest thing for the children. With the development of Shanghai, more and more people are able to enjoy puffed rice at any time. However, fewer people are making puffed rice and it becomes a part of the memory for old Shanghai people.