Kaiping Diaolous: No bandits allowed.

On our trip to Kaiping last week we took a tour a cluster of small villages, named the MaJianglong (马降龙)cluster.

Kaiping is well-known in China for the wave of emigrants that exited China in the early 20th century. By the 1920’s and 1930’s, many of the villagers had fled to the appeals of America, Cananda, and Australia for a better life. It is now jokingly- but accurately- said that there are more villagers from Kaiping living outside of the city than in the city itself. In the early turn of the century, those that traveled to the West for hopes of a better life continued to support their families back at home- their meager salaries in the Western world translated into monthly and yearly funds in the villages.

As word spread of these villagers slowly accumulating loot from their Western family members, bandit attacks become more common and more threatening in many villages. As a result, villagers came together to build concrete structures to protect themselves from these attacks, called Diaolou (碉楼), which directly translates into rock-cave housing.

Today it’s a Unesco World Heritage site, and tourists come to stroll around the stone buildings, bike along the Greenway, and pay 10RMB to walk up a diaolou structure. It’s a pretty neat site to see the village, although I much preferred biking around than the 10rmb entrance fee up what seemed like a dilapidated old army barrack.

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.