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Monday, June 7, 2010

After styling and taking this photograph (tilt your head to the left to see what's spelled out), no one else would eat the popcorn but me! Hee hee, my plan all along...
Trust the Chinese to take a simply made snack and turn it into an amusing attraction.

On the streets of Chinese cities, popcorn vendors can cause all manner of havoc with the way they ply their trade, setting off car alarms and making unsuspecting tourists jump out of their skins. Here's the Wikipedia entry on it:
The corn is poured into a large cast-iron canister ­­– sometimes called a "popcorn hammer" ­­– that is then sealed with a heavy lid and slowly turned over a curbside fire in rotisserie fashion. When a pressure gauge on the canister reaches a certain level, it is removed from the fire, a large canvas sack is put over the lid, and the seal is released. With a huge boom, all of the popcorn explodes at once and is poured into the sack.

I've embedded a video (above) of this activity filmed by an amused visitor to China but if it does not appear on your screen, click here to see it. How's that for roadside entertainment?

Popcorn recipes were what I chose for the June issue of Don't Call Me Chef on snacks to eat while watching the FIFA World Cup which begins soon.

I tried the microwave and stove-top method, and used three types of corn kernels in a low, mid and high price range.
Three types of popcorn in different price ranges from (clockwise from top left) the most expensive to the least. The only one actually made for popping, or so it says on the packaging, is Jolly Time.
Well, the type of corn kernels, I found, didn't make a difference. Recipes tell you to use kernels made specifically for popping, but in this case, all of them popped whatever the price.

Jolly Time comes in white and yellow popcorn ­­– I tried the white here. The colour of the popped corn may be the result of a colouring added to the kernels and not the colour of the kernels themselves because the Organic multicolour whole corn I used came out white when popped, and so did the Tesco house brand kernels.

Now, the popping method. The microwave, which many people rave about ­­– particularly about how fast it happens and that you don't need to toss the kernels with butter or oil beforehand ­­– was a letdown. I used an 800W oven and put unbuttered popcorn into a brown paper bag in one layer, folded the top over twice and laid the bag flat as well as standing up in the oven. With both ways and using each of the different brands of kernels, only a couple popped and it took about 5 minutes even for that to happen. In addition, those that popped were very small compared to the ones popped on the stove-top.

It was even worse when I used a microwaveble bowl. None of the kernels popped!
Paper bag in the microwave (left) and in a pot with a domed lid on the stove
Needless to say, I preferred the stove-top method, although even this one had initial problems.

I used a medium-sized stainless steel saucepot first, but the kernels burnt very quickly. The popping took too long and the result was burnt and small flakes. Then I switched to a large but shallower glass skillet with a domed glass lid. I heated three tablespoons of vegetable oil over high heat, and then dropped in a couple of corn kernels, covered the pan and waited for them to pop. When they did, I poured in about ¼ cup of kernels, put the lid back on, turned the heat down to medium and started gently shaking the pan backwards and forwards without lifting it off the flame (this pan, together with the lid, is very heavy anyway). The popping went like crazy and after 45-60 seconds, the sound of popping slowed down and most of the kernels had popped. That ¼ cup of kernels produced four cups of popcorn.

Watching the kernels pop through the glass lid was quite exciting and I think its dome shape also played a part in the popping success. To get your kernels to pop bigger, some people advise keeping them in the fridge as this helps build up more moisture/steam in the kernel, the reason that corn pops.

Here's another recipe to add to the three that I featured in the June issue of Don't Call Me Chef (see tab above; the link will be up shortly is up but I could only upload one page of the whole article. My story is entitled "What a flake"). The popcorn will be slightly oily due to the kerisik, but if you like coconut, this might appeal to you.

Popcorn with a local flavour
8 cups of popcorn (from ½ cup of kernels)
1 tbsp dried chilli flakes
1 cup toasted peanuts
3 tablespoons kerisik (toasted grated coconut, with oil)
3 tablespoons palm sugar
Salt, to taste
  • Mix chilli flakes and peanuts through popcorn; place in a large bowl.
  • Place kerisik, sugar and salt in a saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally until sugar is dissolved; bring to a boil. Turn down heat and let the mixture simmer gently until it thickens and is reduced slightly, about 5 minutes. Take off heat; pour over popcorn mixture and toss well.


  1. Interesting popcorn flavour with the added chilli flakes. I am game to try! :)

    I prefer sweet popcorns rather than salty ones.

  2. This popcorn flavour may seem odd at first but the sweet and savoury components work really well together.

    For some reason, people who like salty snacks usually prefer sweet popcorn. Strange...


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