I have deformed a perfect fluff ball out of curiosity. As resilient to breaking as it is, it can’t ever re-inflate like our economy. A bit of guilt creeps in. These little fluff balls come from a lengthy process, as indicated by their name (“佬” – lao). Sticky rice flour is mixed with some other rice flour to make the initial dough and let fermented. My guess is fermentation plays a central role in forming the porous structure, when the dough ball gets deep fried. As malt sugar and lard covers their vulnerably hot surface, ’em balls are quickly rolled and tossed in roasted sesame seeds. And there, you get a fresh batch of mi lao, sesame (sticky rice) fluff. (*)
Originally, the sesame fluffs were meant to be a part of the Lunar New Year offerings in China, but who wouldn’t welcome a snack like this year round, so different spin-offs roll out of street stalls in Taiwan, like peanut-lao, almond-lao, rice-lao. Tiny bits of dried laver (nori) creatively dimple the nutty coat, adding subtle salty notes to the fluff.
Light, chewy, sticky, the deformable birdie beach ball turns into a tooth glue upon each bite. Only eight dollars for sixty little packets, the fluffs can start someone’s good day at work, some fun email exchange, a new friendship, and a blog post. They did for me.
* Many thanks to my friend Chihway Chang, whose amicable nature and fluency in the Chinese languages has made this post possible. The fluffs came from her, too.