Adventures in Candyland- Hawthorn caramel

I know it was a teeny stretch to call this peanut brittle in a recent post. And I suppose I am stretching yet again in calling the candy I am about to describe a relative of its Western cousin, the caramel. But let’s be open, shall we? After all, in the rules of my food world- if it tastes good, it’s all good.

In Kaiping, there is a local candy derived from the Hawthorn fruit.  Now, my knowledge of the Hawthorn is restricted to wikipedia’s definition, but after tasting this candy I am definitely intrigued to find out more about how and where this berry is used- in addition to it’s actual flavor profile, unmasked by the sugar that I tasted it with.

Upon first impression of the Kaiping specialty, it looks like a hybrid of honey and caramel.  Actually, the first impression is a pretty accurate one. The process to get this syrup is lost on me, and though I’d venture to guess that somehow the fruit juices are extracted and blended with sugar on low heat until the sticky syrup is formed, I can only accurately comment on the final product- something decadently sweet and tacky and delightfully simple.

A large warm pot of the syrup/candy stays, covered, until some lucky person (me!) asks for one stick (for one rmb!). Here, a young boy working at his family’s stand would take one from a pair of disposable chopsticks, as well as a stick which looked like it was picked off the ground and stick both into the vat of sugar syrup. Then he twirled the sticky substance around the chopstick, coaxing it with the blunt stick around itself.

The texture is pretty hard to accurately describe- there is nothing that I could find to equate it to. But be satisfied in knowing that feels pretty much how it looks. Super tacky, and sticky, yet if you lick it with your wet tongue it doesn’t really do anything. It has the feeling and taste of warm taffy, and there is a buttery quality to it like caramel, though I am almost positive there is absolutely no butter in it. The stuff doesn’t ooze like fresh caramel or honey, but rather slowly morphs like partially-dried hot glue. One could potentially bite it off and chew (though it would leave strings of sticky syrup on your chin), but it would surely leave you with a toothache. Overall it’s a super satisfying treat, one which a small amount you see below lasted me about 45minutes worth of tasty entertainment.

The two sides of Chikan

Yesterday I mentioned visiting Chikan Town, in Kaiping City. Here’s what I was talking about, with the row of old Chinese houses along the small river, and the little tourists’ market that has sprouted up in front:

Oh, and here are all the tourists, on the opposite side of the murkey river. I admit I had a bit of camera envy that afternoon.

Eggs in Chicken Town

I’m always amazed at the things that are sold on the street in China.

On a recent trip to Kaiping City, our group stopped by a small town called Chikan- which a few friends immediately began to refer to as, “Chicken town”.  Famous for a picturesque strip of row houses along a small river, a bazaar selling local snacks and trinkets now buzzes on the street to lure the groups of tourists who stop in for a peek at the old village.

Amongst the treats and trinkets sold on the street are eggs- Ostrich eggs, Chicken eggs, and other eggs which were listed to me, but I was unable to understand due to a heavy local dialect. Some eggs were sold raw, but most were preserved, buried in baskets of salt after being soaked in what seemed like tepid water doused with salt, as I observed one egg lady doing in the photo below.

I’m not a big fan of eggs, and though I do like the Chinese preserved eggs in my congee, I didn’t think these eggs would travel well with an afternoon left of sightseeing. And if anything happened to them, I would probably lose a friend or two on the long bus ride home. So with much restraint I refrained from buying an Ostrich egg. As I am thinking about what to prepare for dinner tonight, I wonder if I should have taken my chances with cradling this odd ingredient home.