Great Wall snack gives taste of history, fortune

SHIJIAZHUANG: Zhao Cuiyun smears a palm-sized leaf with corn paste, stuffs it with smashed meat and folds it into the shape of a dumpling. After some 20 minutes of steaming, the oakleaf cakes will be ready for packaging and sale.
Zhao is from the rural area of Qinhuangdao in north China’s Hebei Province known for the Shanhai Pass, the eastern terminal of the Great Wall, and works at an oakleaf cake workshop. Oakleaf cakes are a specialty that has demonstrated the peculiar Great Wall culture and become a cash cow for local residents.
“With the workshop at my doorstep, I can bring home 2,000 yuan (about 295 U.S. dollars) a month, while being able to take care of my family and the farmland at the same time,” said Zhao, 64.
To meet the explosive market demand for the eight-day holiday of the National Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival starting on Oct. 1, the workshop in Qinhuangdao’s Haigang District has doubled its daily output to 3 tonnes since mid-September, said Yang Guiyun, chairwoman of the workshop called Mulan Food. According to locals, having oakleaf cakes is a tradition passed down by their ancestors from Yiwu, east China’s Zhejiang Province.
In the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), soldiers recruited mainly in Yiwu and led by Qi Jiguang, a renowned military general, were stationed along the Great Wall to resist the enemy from the north.
Ji Yang, a professor with the Northeastern University at Qinhuangdao, said the oakleaf cakes created by the Yiwu soldiers are actually a combined version of the northern specialty of the dumpling and zongzi, stuffed rice balls wrapped with reeds popular in the south, representing a cultural blending of north and south China. –Agenices