The sweet taste of Hong Kong

The sweet taste of Hong Kong

It's hard to name a sugary treat not found in the city but some of the best candies have been right under our noses

May 26, 2011
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Hong Kong has made a name for itself as a foodie heaven, with an amazing array of desserts and delicacies from all over the world, ranging from the all-too-irresistible tiramisu to the increasingly popular frozen yoghurts.

But some of the best sweet treats are traditional candies that have much longer roots in the city.

Dragon's beard candy

Dragon's beard candy is a furry white sweet with a chewy core and a crispy outer layer that melts in your mouth. It was created 2,000 years ago during the Han dynasty.

Alin Leung Oi-tai, 46, learned the technique from her cousin 10 years ago and works in the family business, Wah Hei Yuen. With floured hands, she repeatedly stretches and folds a sugary mix to make thousands of silky strands. Then she trims the strands and wraps them around crushed peanuts, coconut and sesame.

"I hope the delicacy is ... a popular snack to be passed on to the next generation," she says.

Ding ding candy

Working alongside Leung is her niece, Joan Wong Tsz-yan, 17, who learned how to make ding ding candy when she was six. Ding ding candy, also known as deuk deuk tong, is a hard maltose candy.

With a pair of flat chisels in her small hands, Wong carefully breaks the giant piece of candy rock into smaller pieces about the size of a dollar coin for packaging.

The Cantonese word deuk represents the sound of chiselling, a sound that seems to work as a magnet on small children and draw them in.

"I was attracted by the interesting sound when I was small, so I was inspired to make this 'singing' candy," Joan says.

Sugar painting

Peter Ng Hing-hung, 56, picks up just the right amount of sugar syrup in a spoon and lets it drip in a golden thin thread onto a slab of cool marble. With the flourish of a calligrapher, a delicate, edible butterfly appears in front of a group of curious children.

Sugar painting originated in the Ming dynasty when sugar animals were made as a sacrifice in religious rituals.

It is very different from ordinary painting.

"You can't paint something like this with any pen. Only sugar can do the trick," said Ng, who learned his skills in Sichuan.

Candy doll

Nobody can really challenge the candy-doll master, whether he's creating a monkey king or an adorable white rabbit figure, a lily blossom or a pink rose.

Yu Yat-sun, 58, started crafting colourful flowers and animals out of sugar using a pair of scissors back in his hometown on the mainland 40 years ago.

Unlike the traditional types made from brown maltose, Yu's candy dolls come in three colour-flavour combiations: pink strawberry, green mint and white vanilla.

"This multi-colour version is quite unique in Hong Kong and eye-catching, so it attracts customers," he says.

Yu is also a fan of the traditional folk art of sugar-blowing, which he describes as a "dying form of bubblegum art". Like making candy dolls, the art demands hand and eye co-ordination to blow air into the sugar and shape it.

"Sugar-blowing is no longer popular nowadays for hygienic reasons," he says.

"The weather in Hong Kong is also far too humid for the candy to set. It's only when you go to a Chinese opera you'll sometimes find this art."



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