Being attracted by the artistry of food-making as it’s done before the eyes – I initially discovered Montreal’s Dragon Beard Candy shoppe quite by accident. I was just walking by when I suddenly got an enormous sensation of authenticity and street-food soul, and swerved to my left to discover this gem of a candy makers right here in Montreal. Barely the size of a large elevator, this place always seems to have a steady stream of curious sweets-buyers, wanting to try the ethereal product.
Apparently as old as the Song Dynasty, possibly boasting a 2000-year old past, Dragon beard candy is made of very simple ingredients – simply maltose, sugar and peanuts, but – as with most candy – it’s what is done with these ingredients that give it it’s unique character. Maltose is a disaccharide sugar, the same kind that is formed after amylase starts breaking down starch, like when barley is malted – not as sweet as sugar, and used often in asian confections. Here, the candy is made by cooking down a saturated maltose solution into a solid and malleable puck that the makers stretch out over and over again while dusting it in toasted glutinous flour until it is stretched into thousands of gossamer-fine strands. The strands are cut to length, and then wrapped around a mixture of sugar and peanuts and sold immediately to be eaten right away, as delicate a creation as one might imagine.
Amazingly (or, perhaps not surprisingly), it isn’t common in North America at all, and as far as I know, Montreal is one of the few cities on this side of the Pacific to even have it available, with the only other semi-mythical option being a guy who does it seasonally in New York. Not only that, but it’s a very good example of the craft, too, or at least, I enjoy the inclusion of toasted white sesame seeds, and the way the whole centre explodes into nutty sandy shards as the powdery and airy wrapper dissolves on the tongue.
They’re available to buy in large quantities, but I usually just get one for the moment; a 75 cent luxury, and the transaction is an interesting experience as well. To maintain sanitation, you put your money on the table and pick up the change yourself, the coins dusted with a fine film of flour and your other hand suddenly offered a little white cloud in the centre of a napkin – like a woodland creature, warm and slightly heavier than it seems it should be.
Suddenly you have to find a spot to enjoy it. There’s a nearby courtyard, try that, it is perfect. ^_^