Originally published by Jenny Leung. Last updated by Catharina Cheung.
With modern convenience stores popping up left, right, and centre around Hong Kong, many si doh (traditional tuck shops) have had no choice but to shut down, taking with them a myriad of local sweets and snacks that all Hongkongers once loved in their childhood. With a bit of luck, you can still get most of these treats in supermarkets, online shops, or at one of the few remaining si doh in Hong Kong. Here are some of the most popular snacks that you might want to add to your shopping list. Get ready for a stroll down memory lane...
The top of our list is, of course, the famous White Rabbit Milk Candy. Wrapped in a classic white, blue, and red wax paper, these chewy milky sweets will stick to your teeth so much that you might end up pulling your fillings out—but it’s well worth the risk. For those trying them for the first time, don’t worry about the thin film of rice paper wrapped around the candy, because it’s edible and actually there to prevent the candy from melting into the wrapper. Genius!
Made from melted malt sugar, Ding Ding Candy is a classic sugary treat that definitely hits home. Melted sugar is stretched repeatedly into a long, thin shape before it solidifies, creating a biscuit-like texture. The candy then gets broken into pieces with a small hammer and chisel for ease of packaging, making a crisp ding sound with every hit—hence the name.
There are only a few places left that sell this nostalgic sweet, but you can try looking for them at your local wet market or, if you’re lucky enough, you’ll come across one of the last few remaining street vendors in areas such as Tsim Sha Tsui, Sham Shui Po, Mong Kok, Kwai Chung, or even Yuen Long.
“Mum, you need to get those snacks for me. I can learn animal names and everything—they’re educational!” Sound familiar? We know you’ve done the same whiny excuse as well, don’t lie! Seriously, this is how good these crackers are; buttery, crumbly, covered with seaweed flakes, and not really in any way resembling the animals they claim to portray. A top-notch childhood favourite.
These may not look like much, but Honey Lemon Tea Candy is a must-have for candy trading in any school playground (do kids still do this, we wonder?). Although the logo design has changed over time, its bright yellow packaging still remains the same, reminding us when $1 could buy us a handful of these bad boys. Nowadays, you will usually see them sitting in a bowl at the front desk of a doctor’s office, hotel, or even at the check-in counter at the airport—if you’re lucky!
Phew! These stinkers will pong up the room you’re in, but when you’re the one eating them, there’s not much else as immediately addictive. Cuttlefish is dried, shredded, then mixed with seasonings like sugar, salt, and sometimes chilli powder, making for an umami-filled, chewy delight.
A similar snack is dried fish strips, which are cut into uniform long laces, as opposed to the tangle of randomly shaped cuttlefish. The most famous brand for the fish version is Dahfa Dried Fish Fillet. Though not quite as tangy and flavourful as the cuttlefish, these are the more polite variety, for when you don’t want to offend anyone with the smell.
Is it a toy? A piece of candy? An instrument? Well, why not all three? Whistle Candy is a fun sugary treat that is adored by kids (and adults) of all ages. Simply hold the piece of candy upright between your lips, blow through the hole, and a loud whistling sound can be made. Mindless, silly, entertainment for all. Don’t forget about the tiny toy gift nestled inside the paper box! We’re stilling holding out for that plastic motorbike...
For around 50 cents, you could get yourself one of these sweet, sugary bubble gums. The best part? The wrapper, of course! While there are different wrappers with various cartoon characters, every little piece of paper comes with a tattoo sticker on the inside, the most original being the Japanese cartoon character, Ultraman. Even after growing up and having multiple inkings done, these temp tattoos are still fun. Unfortunately, they are very hard to find these days, but you can always try your luck at a traditional convenience store, newspaper stand, or wet market.
A word of warning: these tiny, bite-sized biscuits with different coloured icing drops taste delicious and are dangerously addictive. They’re sometimes referred to in Cantonese as tou chi beng, literally meaning ‘belly button biscuit,’ perhaps because they kind of resemble an outie belly button?
You’ll find there are divisive opinions on ways to eat these. Some like popping a big handful in one go, while others prefer to nibble on the icing first before nibbling the biscuit for all the flavours. We also know people who crush everything up into tiny pieces inside the packet, then tuck in with a spoon like cereal. But the cheekiest way to eat them is probably scraping off the icing, eating it, and chucking the biscuit base back into the pack for the next unlucky bugger to find.
They’ve really got the English name right, as most kids want this snack supplied to them non-stop. The local pronunciation is actually wong wong, in case you ever need to ask for it at a shop.
The original Want Want crackers are in an oblong shape, flavoured with something that tastes vaguely like sweet soy sauce. They then came up with other versions as well, the best of which is the cheese flavour, which you had to be careful biting into in case any of the precious cheese powder crumbled off. The fanciest, jazzed-up version is the Want Want Shelly Senbei crackers, which are round, and come with white sugary bits randomly dotted over the top—the perfect mix of sweet and savoury.
These snacks are so popular that they’ve made a name for themselves in the States as well, and are available for those overseas to purchase on Amazon. For us in Hong Kong, they’re luckily still in stock at most supermarkets.
Bubble Candy definitely strikes a nostalgic chord for most Hongkongers. Back when Jumpin’ Gym USA was the most popular place to be, all you could think about was what prizes you wanted to exchange for the handful of game tickets you win, and the brightly coloured candy claw machines was always one of the most popular games to play.
Filled with bucketloads of fizzy Bubble Candy, these machines were relatively easy to get the hang of, meaning you were almost guaranteed to win a handful of them every time! Sadly, there are no more candy claw machines at Jumpin’ Gym USA, but you can still find these sweeties in most supermarkets and Aji Ichiban stores.
Everyone loves exploding candy, but when you add candy floss into the mix, it’s a whole new level of enjoyment. This iconic sugary confection will have you smiling and wincing at the same time as the sweet cotton candy begins to melt away, and the crackling pop rocks start to ricochet over your tongue! The most popular flavours are grape and cola, and luckily, these are still pretty popular so you could hunt them down in supermarkets or convenience stores—Japanese chains being the most likely to stock them.
Cookie Monster, who? We only recognise the Mamee Monster here! Way before McDonald’s got the bright idea of bringing out Shake Shake Fries, kids were already adding little flavour packets of MSG into these dried ramen noodles, and shaking the packet to mix it all up. These are still a popular snack to this day, and you can easily find them in supermarkets. The chicken flavour is the best, and don’t forget to crumble up the noodles before you add the seasoning!
If you’ve ever had Chinese herbal medicine, then we’re fairly sure you’ve also been coaxed into drinking the bitter concoction with the promise of haw flakes. Haw flakes are made of hawthorns, a Chinese fruit used in many traditional desserts. Compressed into small bite-sized discs, the pale pink, almost light brown candy is usually packaged into a short cylindrical stack to replicate Chinese fireworks.
Sweet with a slightly tangy taste, this popular snack is usually enjoyed after drinking bitter traditional herbal broths to take the edge off, but they are also great just on their own. There are variations of haw snacks out there, such as the haw ball or the layered haw bites, but we all know the OG haw flakes are the best.
Known colloquially as ma zai, the sachima is actually a pastry which originated among the Machus in northern China. Because its nickname is also a term for horses, it is said that some will eat sachima before betting at the horse races for good luck! Made with fluffy strands of fried batter, bound together with sticky syrup, then cut into blocks, it is essentially the older brother of America’s Rice Krispies Treats. You’ll quite easily find sachima in local bakeries, supermarkets, or even big chain bakeries such as Kee Wah. Black sugar versions are our favourite, but you’ll also come across various other types with different toppings.
If a kid rolled up to school with a whole strip of these bad boys, everyone would be clamouring over them to get their hands on a pack. Nobody needs to have seaweed introduced to them, but there’s just something about Four Seas Seaweed which makes it taste so much better than other brands out there. Savoury and a bit sweet, with a tinge of spicy to it, you’re liable to end up with little seaweed crumbs covering your hands and face, wondering where it all went. Frankly, the only complaint we have is that there are only four pieces of seaweed in each small packet!