Chinese “candied apples”
On the chilly, winter streets of Beijing, you spot an odd sight: Street vendors selling bright-red spheres stacked on long, wooden sticks. The smooth and glossy spectacle looks like a glass figurine! You find out it’s edible and as you bite into them, you’re alarmed to hear a loud crunch.
That’s the sound of eating Tanghulu, or candied fruit skewers. This Chinese snack is similar to candied apples in which fruits are coated with a sweet sugar syrup that harden into a shiny shell. Traditionally, hawthorn berries are used but other fruits like strawberries, kiwis, grapes, or mandarin oranges can be made into Tanghulu as well. The combination of tart fruit and sweet candy makes for a lovely treat to enjoy.
The Story of Zao Jun
In ancient Chinese religion, people prayed to many gods and goddesses for good fortune. One of the most famous gods is Zao Jun ( 灶君), the Kitchen God. His job was to report to the Jade Emperor ruling over Heaven on the family’s behavior throughout the year. It’s like when your teacher handed out report cards to your parents back in middle school—a nerve-wracking experience if you happened to be failing geometry. (What? I would never.)
That’s why around Chinese New Year, families would offer Tanghulu to Zao Jun and hope the sugary snack will “sweeten” his words. Perhaps the Kitchen God can be bought off with candy but don’t try to bribe your teachers in this way.