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Ah, kids and their snacks. “You’re going to ruin your dinner!” “Your teeth are going to rot away!” “Why do you waste your allowance on that junk?” You hear those parental wails here in Hawaii just as often as you hear them where you live.
Here, the offending snack is crack seed. Crack seed, which originated in China, is preserved fruits that have been cracked or split with the seed or kernel partially exposed to enhance the flavor. The common term for this category of snacks is “li hing mui.” The flavor might be extremely sweet, salty, sour, or sweet and sour; found in various fruit marriages with plum, mango, peach, lemon, ginger and apricot. The treats are packaged and sealed in small plastic bags and sold everywhere for prices kids can afford.
For thousands of years, the Chinese used preserved dried fruit to supplement their meals when they traveled over the mountainous terrain of China. It naturally replenished the salt lost through sweat over their long journeys. The salt also helped their bodies retain water and lessened muscle cramps. When the Chinese immigrated to Hawaii, the dried fruits provided a cheaper alternative to the expensive fruits and vegetables on the island. The Chinese snacks found homes in the shops of Chinatown, originally having been shipped from Mainland China. But it wasn’t long before local shopkeepers began developing their own crack seed to suit local island tastes.
Another popular local snack, arare, has evolved from the Japanese rice cracker, which was brought to Hawaii by Japanese plantation workers in the 1900’s. This crunchy cracker made of glutinous rice comes in a variety of flavors and styles. It is usually baked with a mixture of salty soy sauce and it’s sweet. It also can be fried or wrapped in seaweed, surround a nut, or be flavored with sesame seeds. It is perfectly normal at movie theaters for a kid (or adult) to buy a bag of popcorn and a package of arare, dump em both into a box, mix em up and much away for a couple of hours.
If you bring your kids on your Hawaii vacation, they will have the opportunity to try those ubiquitous snacks. You can expect a reaction you’ve heard before: “Yuk!” It’s just as well. Crack seed and arare are really addictive once gotten used to, and not readily available on the mainland. When Hawaii families vacation on the mainland, they always pack a couple of weeks’ worth of the stuff in order to mollify the kids.