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Shanghai's history of the spiced beans

By Wang Ying ( Shanghai Star ) Updated: 2015-01-30 04:05:33

Shanghai's history of the spiced beans

Popular: The shop selling spiced beans attracts big crowds of locals and tourists. Photo provided to Shanghai Star

It is the snack that became a symbol of the city. Wang Ying looks at the history of the spiced beans from Town God's Temple.

There is a well-known saying in Shanghai, "a man who does not eat spiced beans at Town God's Temple has not truly been to Shanghai".

The saying gives some clue as to how significant the beans are to many people.

Founded in the 1930s by local businessman Guo Yingzhou, spiced beans or cream spiced beans were first sold from a snack store called Xinglong Guoji Spiced Beans in Town God's Temple.

The store attracted customers from across the city, and gradually, the beans became a famous local snack.

Five scented beans

Spiced beans are called wuxiangdou (五香豆)in Chinese, which literally means five scented beans. According to a local legend, Emperor Qianlong of the Qing dynasty (1644-1911) ate the beans when he visited the region to the south of the Yangtze River. Qianlong remarked that the delicious beans had five scents, which is one theory as to how the dish got its name.

But according to a more accurate history, it's the shopkeeper Guo that invented these beans. Guo was very interested in the local snack huixiangdou, a dish made of small green soy beans toasted with cinnamon, fennel and other spices. The snack was very popular in Shanghai during the 1930s and 1940s.

Guo bought some spiced beans, and after much experimentation, he eventually made a new dish featuring the beans which had a firmer texture. Guo called it wuxiangdou.

Guo chose the broad beans that have white skin, white eye and white pulp. Guo roasted them with five ingredients: fennel, citrus, cinnamon, sugar and essence. The broad beans tasted soft and hard as well as salty and sweet. In fact, Guo was among the first who applied flavoring essence into food. Since the beans smell a little like cream and five special aromatic spices were used, the food got the name, creamed spiced beans.

Because the spiced beans were made of saccharin, flavoring butter essence and salt, they are also known as Chenghuangmiao crystal sugar cream spiced beans.

The unique flavor of the beans won them lots of fans. Guo was careful to maintain the high quality of his snack, and would carefully select the beans and ensure they were cooked well. Local celebrities would ask their servants to go all the way to Town God’s Temple for the spiced beans.

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