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Lunar New Year: The art of dragon’s beard candy

Dragon's beard candy is an "exhausting" process, says Kam Ng.

A small line-up of people has been spotted waiting every morning at a handmade candy stall in Richmond’s Aberdeen Centre ever since Lunar New Year festivities began.

People have been lining up for dragon’s beard candy, a traditional Chinese snack known for its white colour and thin, hair-like threads. It’s similar to cotton candy, except it is filled with chopped peanuts, sesame seeds and shredded coconut.

The candy is thought to resemble a dragon’s beard with its long white strands which are made from melted sugar that is repeatedly stretched.

It is said that the dragon’s beard candy dates back to the Han Dynasty in China where an imperial court chef would only make and serve the sweet treat to the emperors of China during state banquets.

Kam Ng, a dragon beard candy master, has been making the delicacy in Metro Vancouver for the past 33 years.

In the past, his candy stall could only be found in Richmond during Lunar New Year and while the Richmond night market was open – although, he’s given up the night market gig.

Ng told the Richmond News that making dragon’s beard candy is a family tradition and he was trained in the art so he could take over the family business.

When asked how long it took him to learn the art, Ng said, “It took several years to master the skills to make it perfect,” adding that each step is difficult because strength, temperature and humidity all need to be accounted for when making the candy.

“You have to pull the candy threads with a certain amount of strength, but too much can break them and too little you can’t create the strands well.”

The dragon’s beard candy is made from sugar or maltose syrup that is boiled down and cooled until it is solid. It is then formed into a doughnut ring.

Dragon’s beard candy chefs then repeatedly stretch and fold the ring upon itself within a container of corn starch or rice flour until it turns into paper thin strands.

The strands are then typically wrapped with crushed peanuts and sesame seeds.

Dying art

Ng described the process of making dragon’s beard candy as exhausting.

He didn’t say if it is due to the unending line-up of customers or because of the strength he needs to pull the candy, but retirement is on his mind.

While the process is mesmerizing to watch, it can be tedious to perform, and not many people are learning the art anymore, according to Ng.

“A lot of younger people don’t really want to do this type of art anymore because it is repetitive and physically demanding,” he said.

Many masters of this art form, Ng added, have long retired and if they haven’t yet they are definitely “growing older and losing the strength” to pull the candy now.

Ng said he is unsure how long he will keep making dragon’s beard candy, but for now he “will do his best for this year’s Lunar New Year celebrations” at Aberdeen.