The process of making dragon beard candies can feel like a magic show. In the right hands, a small bit of maltose can be kneaded, pulled and stretched into a thousand delicate sugar strands that are then wrapped like a cocoon around a delicious mixture of stir-fried sesame, chopped peanuts, sugar and desiccated coconut. It’s something that takes years to master.
The founder of the Bamboo Garden confectionary brand, Wong Hon-keung, started making dragon beard candies as a child, learning from his father who moved to Hong Kong from Guangzhou in the 1950s. “These candies were considered a sort of luxury back in those days and a lot of people would stop to watch as my dad went about making them, doing a performance. It was all very theatrical,” Wong recalls.
When he grew up, Wong left his father’s candy trade behind and entered the garment business. It was a chance encounter that made him reconnect with his childhood snack. “My wife and I visited a Chinatown in Canada one time while we were on holiday,” he says. “I noticed that there were more people making dragon beard candy there than in Hong Kong. I felt really moved by this and decided I wanted to revive this traditional snack back home.”
Upon returning to Hong Kong, Wong set up Bamboo Garden in 1999 and spent three years working on what is now the brand’s signature ‘ice-crispy’ recipe. These are now available at major food and souvenir shops in Hong Kong, as well as overseas.
Now 62 years old, Wong has taught his son all the tips and techniques of making dragon beard candy. “My son studied IT at school and had no interest in candy,” says Wong, likening his son to his younger self. His son changed his mind after accompanying Wong on a candy- making performance in the US.
Aside from teaching his son, Wong welcomes all who are interested in learning more about this craft. Unlike a lot of older artisans who are reluctant to take on apprentices and pass on their knowledge, Wong says: “As long as you’re willing to learn, I’m willing to teach. I don’t even mind if my apprentice goes on to open his or her own store. I want more people to keep this tradition alive.”
Photo: Calvin Sit