Blame it on my multicultural Winnipeg upbringing. One of my elementary school friends, whose parents were from China, regularly brought little round packages as a snack in his lunch box. Curious, I asked him what they were. As part of his explanation, he offered me a sample. My young mind was blown.
Haw Flakes, as I learned they were called, are typically sold in plastic bags of ten small rolls. Each roll is wrapped in colourful printed paper with the words HAW FLAKES in the middle, under which is a mention of the Jinan Fruit Research Institute All China Federation of Supply & Marketing Co-Operatives. To little me, the packages looked utterly alien.
Inside the paper wrapping is a stack of 12 nickel-sized pale pink discs. They’re semi-hard, but you can break them in two without much effort. They look like dried fruit puree cut into circles. They sometimes stick together.
The taste is like a subdued cousin of dried strawberry and guava juice, crushed into a paste, then processed into a hard flake texture. It’s really difficult to describe the flavour. Sweet and berry-like is the closest I’ll get.
Wikipedia says they’re made from the fruit of the Chinese hawthorn, but that doesn’t diminish the mystery.
Sharing rolls of haw flakes with my friend was a formative childhood experience. I learned that food with labels I couldn’t read could be really good, and that there are whole stores dedicated to unfamiliar, imported delights just waiting to be tried.
RATINGS AND DETAILS
Cost: Last I saw, about $0.70 for a pack of 10 rolls. For real.
Value for cash money: Insanely good. Did you read the price above? Wow.
Availability: Chinese grocery stores in any major city should stock them. Ask for haw flakes, and they’ll know what you mean. There are different kinds, so don’t be surprised if they don’t always come in a roll.
Nutrition?: Only 20 calories per 9-gram roll.
Ingredients?: Simple but cryptic: HAW, SUGAR, WATER, U.S.A. FD&C RED” 40.
The verdict: They’re great. I still buy them from time to time, and I even picked up a supply in Montreal’s Chinatown before leaving on a long trip to Africa. It’s one of my stranger comfort foods.