Believe it or not, these strands of sugary sweet almost broke my jaws because it’s too hard too chew on.
First time I became aware of
this “cotton candy” was when a video of a seller making these strands—pulling and folding it just like the making a hand-pulled noodles—showed up on my Instagram Explore tab. That was like near the end of last year.
In that video they spoke in Thai, so I quickly asked my Thai friend about it. He said this Chinese confection was called Kanom Mai Fah in Thai, which means sky silk—also a symbol for Dragon’s beard.
Turned out, it was famously known as Dragon’s Beard Candy in English. And, known as Kkultarae in Korean. Also other names in various Asian culture. But I didn’t know what the Chinese spelling was.
So! Fast forwarded to
my one day trip in Chongqing last April, I finally met a seller of this candy in Ciqikou Old Street Market—a famous street in Chongqing, said to be a community-based tourism area. I finally tried the candy!
Unexpectedly, it was not as sweet as I thought it would be. The sweetness didn’t give me a cringe or a disgusted shudder. These sugary strands were folded around a small portion of chopped cooked peanuts—if you are Indonesian, it’s like like Tingting candy—and that’s it.
The appearance looked like pillow-y candy. When it was freshly made and warm, it was soft with a good texture. But when it was cold, though, it could work as a jaw breaker. A never ending chewing.
Even now as I am writing this, I still remember how hard my jaw worked at that time to chew it. A strenuous job, really.
Dragon’s Beard Candy was created in the period of Han Dynasty, by an imperial court chef trying to entertain the Emperor, who had these long-strands beard that looked like dragon’s.
However, because it was attributed to Han Dynasty, the practice of making Dragon’s Beard Candy was prohibited during the Chinese Cultural Revolution. It was a radical sociopolitical movement by Mao Ze Dong, aimed to preserve “true” communist ideology by purging capitalist along with traditional Chinese elements in the society, and re-impose his dominant ideology. The movement lasted 10 years, could you imagine how much damage was done to the heritage at that time?
Even a cultural product such as “candy” has to suffer. The candy and the way to make it was prohibited.
How significant is a candy in your life anyway?
But during that time, the institution (read: government) saw it as part of a culture deemed dangerous to be still embraced by the society. Thus, they got rid of it.
It’s fascinating to see the push and pull between “cultures” and the “agencies” from small, most likely mundane, things like this, huh?