Our May visit to Montreal also had us knock another place off of the “we should try that!” list. In this case, it’s over in Chinatown. Way back in 2003, coming back from a Cirque du Soleil performance on the waterfront, we wandered by a little stall with a simple “Dragon Beard Candy” selling pretty much one item: Dragon Beard Candy. We weren’t really hungry at that point, but were really curious to find out what it was. And then over the next dozen or so visits to Montreal, either didn’t go through Chinatown, went when the stand wasn’t open, or just plain weren’t hungry (a stomach full of poutine and smoked meat has a way of doing that to you). But this trip, we finally had a convergence: we were on a long walk (doing a test run for our annual “Death March” 20 mile hike across a city), hungry, and Dragon Beard Candy was open.
So that brings us to the obvious question: What is Dragon Beard Candy? Basically, it’s hand-pulled cotton candy. They start with a sugary dough that’s dusted with glutinous flour to make a little ring of flour, and then proceed to pull it. You know those Asian noodle places where people hand-pull noodles for soup? Yeah, it’s a lot like that, but using a taffy-like dough, instead. After many, many pulls, the dough is reduced to a light lacing of fine sugary filaments, which are then wrapped around a core of ground peanuts, chocolate, coconut and sesame seeds. to make little walnut-sized confections, usually bought by the half-dozen.
There’s also an interesting ritual in buying the stuff: the workers (the owner Mr Chin and his daughter, apparently) have their hands all covered in sugar and dough, which makes handling money difficult and un-hygienic. So they’ve laid an array of coins and bills out on the counter, covering them with a damp towel. You place your order, the towel is lifted, you put your money down in one spot and make change yourself from the other, and then you select your candy from the counter. Quite sensible, actually, but a little unusual the first time.
How was the candy? I actually like it. The slightly doughier-nature of the hand-pulled threads makes for a slightly less sweet version of cotton candy, and the peanut-sesame-coconut core adds a snickers-like pleasant note to it. They are a little difficult to eat dantily: like some sushi rolls, the real trick is to just pop the entire thing in your mouth. But it is a pleasant, and unique treat. I think I’ve seen Dragon Beard candy stands only a half dozen times or so in my life.