The Best Snacks and Drinks to Buy at a Chinese Grocery Store

Egg roll cookies, green onion pancakes, and yakult milk are must-have items.

Image by Chineme Elobuike and Manali Doshi for Thrillist

Walking through a Chinese grocery store personally brings on a mix of emotions. Certain familiar items that I don’t find in the aisles at mainstream markets fill me with a sense of nostalgia while the overwhelming majority of items—aided by my illiteracy in Mandarin and Cantonese—still fill me with a sense of wonder and mystery.

Then again, when I roll up and down the aisles, filling my cart with snacks that fulfill my cravings for the savory, sweet, and salty treats I have learned to appreciate over my lifetime, I’m reminded by how lucky I am to have easy access to such a huge selection of these imports. (In my early life, I lived with just one Asian grocer in a 100-mile radius.) I feel more comfortable sitting with the inability to navigate the ins and outs of every product on the shelves, while purchasing one or three unfamiliar items to try out at home.

Of course, it’s natural to find the Chinese market a somewhat intimidating place for newcomers. Snacks and drinks are a great way to dip your toe into the cultural ocean of possibilities. While some classic items conjure memories of visiting my Chinese and Taiwanese family and friends, there seem to constantly be new trends in snacks popping up, then arriving on our shores.

Our favorite Chinese snacks and drinks

Egg Roll Cookies
Far from the deep fried appetizer found as an appetizer to an Asian meal, egg roll cookies are often found in a reclosable, bulk-sized tin—and for me, atop my cousin’s coffee table for easy snacking. Made with eggs, butter, sugar and vanilla, they’re a flaky, delicious cookie that are so hard to keep your hands off of, you won’t be able to have just one.

White Rabbit Candy
White Rabbit Candy is the iconic sweet treat for Chinese, Taiwanese, and other Asian kids everywhere. Unlike the other snacks, they’re made by one brand only—Shanghai Guan Sheng Yuan Food Ltd—and all the others are merely imitations. Recognizable by their waxy white, blue, and red wrappers with a bunny on it, they’re chewy and taste like sweet milk.

Rice Crackers
There’s something super satisfying about biting into a crunchy, airy wafer made of rice and tapioca. Predominantly made in Japan, rice crackers also come from Thailand but can be found in many different sizes and packaging, and seasoned with soy, sugar, bonito, and other miscellaneous proprietary combinations of the above. They’re pressed into different textures and come golden, frosted with icing or wrapped in seaweed for that perfect salty-sweet symbiosis.

Sachima
Sweet, fluffy and slightly gooey is how someone might describe sachima, the snack made of fried flour and a coating of syrup that draws parallels to the beloved rice krispy treat. It leans more savory, however, and its golden color is indicative of butter in the batter used to make it. Different versions might include sesame seeds, raisins, even dried coconut.

Green Onion Pancake
Though found in the freezer aisle rather than the packaged goods one, the green onion pancake is one of the most satisfying snacks you can have—provided you have a stovetop, a pan and some oil at your disposal. You’ll encounter several different brands, but my favorite is from I-Mei. Simply crisp from frozen in your pan until a pocket layer of air appears, and this simple, warm treat made with wheat flour, oil, salt and of course green onion will tide you over til your next meal. Top it off with a fried egg and soy for that bonus factor.

Lao Gan Ma Chili Crisp
Probably the second most essential condiment after soy sauce, chile crisp is that perfect bringer of spice, oil and crunchy texture—all headed off by a touch of numbing, known in Sichuan foods as “mala.” If you’re new to it, red and brown chili flakes swimming at the bottom of a jar of dark red oil takes a little acclimation at first, but once you realize its delicious complexity, you won’t be able to resist adding it to absolutely everything. Maybe even (trust us on this) vanilla ice cream.

Calpico Water
Though this chalky, white water is actually Japanese, it’s popular in Chinese stores, too. That’s probably because Calpico actually tastes simultaneously sweet and refreshing—even light. Nonfat dry milk is the reason for its thicker looking composition, but you’ll set aside any reservations about how it looks after you find out how good it tastes. I love drinking this while eating salty snacks for a perfect contrast on the palate.

Yakult
I’ve been a devout drinker of this yogurt drink before “probiotics” were touted on the packaging of wellness products. That’s because these shots of the white, milky-colored beverage packaged in plastic jugs with the red foil tops are irresistible. They’re a tad sweet and a tad sour, but 100% delicious.

Where to go shopping for Chinese groceries

Probably the most well known chain market to carry these snacks and more is 99 Ranch, which has locations all over California and Texas but also New Jersey, Massachusetts, Oregon and Washington State.

These items can be found at many other kinds of Asian markets, due to the snacks’ popularity and tendency for many markets to cross over and carry pan-Asian items. Alternatively, you can also order online through Weee, which ships self-stable items nationwide, and offers fresh grocery delivery in 18 states.

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Esther Tseng is a freelance writer who covers the intersection of food and culture. She has also contributed to the Los Angeles Times, Food & Wine, Bon Appétit, and more. You can follow her tweets, see what she’s eating on Instagram, and read her work.