So here we are, a week away from Christmas, and here in China things are not “beginning to look a lot like Christmas.” The weather is bitterly cold at night, no one has that festive feeling, and only a few stores have anything resembling Christmas decorations (and a few of them keep it up all year long, so it’s kind of lost it’s meaning at this point).
But there is one thing that adds that Christmas touch. Before I tell you, quick, think of the most famous nut at Christmas that you probably have never actually eaten. I’ll give you a hint, you can roast them on a fire. That’s right: chestnuts.
In Lin’an nuts are a local specialty, and my favorite in wintertime is the chestnut. They might not be roasted on a fire here, but they are roasted in a giant metal bin, being tossed around with a bunch of heated tiny black rocks. I’ll be honest, I don’t know much about the process, but the final result is fantastic. They taste like tiny little hot potatoes and it totally warms you up on a chilly night.
Street food is usually not very aesthetically pleasing to the eye. Hot, fresh dumplings are usually thrown into a cheap paper container, chicken legs are tossed into Styrofoam, which is then thrown into a plastic bag (which gets filled with oily chicken grease). But the nut guys add some class to their nuts by having special brown paper bags. As I walk away from the stand, the nuts steaming from the warm brown paper bag, I feel like I’m a kid walking around New York city in the 50’s about to skate at Rockefeller Square. Somehow, the warmth, the brown bag and the roasted nut smell makes me nostalgic for a time and place I have never lived.
Like I said, nuts are a local specialty and they show up in some of the local food as well. I had a rib soup with these nuts in it and the local wonton place has chestnut and pork filled wontons. It might sound strange, but these nuts really do taste similar to small potatoes, just a little sweeter I guess, and they actually go really well with soup.
The place I go most often also cuts open the nuts so opening them is quiteÂ convenient. I’m a lazy eater and I don’t want to work too hard for my nuts, I just want to eat them, so these guys are perfect. In fact, if you are careful, you can get the nut out without breaking the shell. Then, you have a little face shaped shells which Ryan turned into an arts and crafts project with some of his students.
It’s funny that I had to move to China to enjoy this very American holiday tradition, but I’m glad to at least get that Christmas feeling somehow. “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire…..”