Unfortunate Food

Chinese Candy Assortment

Now with 25% more melamine!:)

But no, seriously.  One of the engineers at my workplace recently came back from visiting family in China, and brought back a bag of assorted Chinese candy for everyone else to sample.  These confections, according to him, are highly popular over there, or at least in the region where he was staying.  (Like most other large counties, there's a lot of regional variation in cuisine and local tastes, so simply saying "Chinese food" is about as specific as saying "European food" or "North American food".)  He opened the bag, and set them out on the table, and the cautious experimentation began.  Fortunately, I had my Palm Pilot's camera ready to capture the moments for posterity.

First, we had to figure out what the heck the different candies actually were.  Some of the wrappers had dubious English translations, but even these raised more questions than they answered.  "Honey Hemp Flowers"?  "Tuckahoe Pie" – which comes in four flavors, including "original"?  Xiaowei tried to explain some of them, but... well, try explaining banana pudding to someone who's never heard of a banana.

Apparently, Tuckahoe Pie is a traditional snack food in Beijing, which I assume this candy is meant to emulate in some fashion.  It turned out to be little more than some kind of transparent-yellow, gummi bear-like gel sandwiched in between two thick pieces of edible rice paper.  There were supposedly four different flavors of "Tuckahoe Pie" in the assortment, according to the labels, but as near as I could tell they all tasted pretty much the same.  Whether or not they tasted anything like tuckahoe, I couldn't say.


Charlie was the first one brave enough to sample one of the candies with no English on the label.  Removed from its pyramidal packaging, it was basically just a soft, squishy, gelatinous lump of vaguely yellowish... stuff, with a dusting of white powder, probably some kind of starch to keep it from sticking to the package.  His verdict?  "I keep chewing it, and it keeps returning to its original shape."


Spencer, one of our resident vegetarians at the office, contemplates the "Honey Hemp Flowers".  Alas, there appears to be no actual hemp involved in this... presumably, it's a reference to the rope-like appearance of the candy, which turned out to be a sort of braided, crunchy cookie with a vaguely honey-colored sugar glaze on it.  These actually weren't half-bad, although they didn't seem particularly sweet for something with the word "honey" in the name.  Yo know that "burnt sugar" flavor you get off the bottom of a cookie that's been in the oven too long?  Yeah, it's kind of like that.


Candied hawthorne berries, another popular snack in China.  They look kind of dubious when you unwrap them, but they're actually pretty tasty; sweet and tart at the same time, and the candy coating has that whole chewy/crunchy thing going on, reminiscent of those magic moments as a kid when your Tootsie Pop finally dissolved enough for you to bite into the chocolate center.  And, just like the Tootsie Pop, the candy coating on these sticks to your teeth like you wouldn't believe.


Rodolfo decides to try another Chinese-labeled... something.  We never did figure out what this was, other than some kind of rubbery, opaque-yellowish gel, but it doesn't look as if he's enjoying the experience.  Perhaps the fact that the pack had no visible means of opening it, and had to be cut open with scissors to get to what was inside, should have been a clue that whatever was inside was best left undisturbed.:)


There was, however, one candy which none of us were brave enough to try.  The frightening Yang Geng.  Actually, there were three different flavors of Yang Geng in the package, two of which weren't bad.  One was a walnut-ish flavor, and the other, "red bean paste", had a pleasantly sweet flavor that wasn't like beans at all.  (Azuki bean paste is actually very common in Asian confections, and is surprisingly tasty.)  But the third one, well... take a look at the ingredients list and judge for yourself.

Yes, you read that correctly.  Sheep liver powder.  In candy.

Oh, hell no.

(Apparently, according to Xiaowei, in traditional Chinese medicine, sheep liver is considered to be good for the eyes, and children are encouraged to eat lots of it in the belief that it will give them good vision.  Much like carrots are encouraged over here, although a candy with carrots in it doesn't sound nearly as disturbing as sheep liver powder.)

Verdict:   Candied hawthorn berries good, sheep-liver powder baa-a-a-a-a-d.