Monday, March 19, 2012

Sweet memories of candies of yesteryear

THREE decades ago, few imported candies were sold in the village sundry store or kedai runcit.

Only locally-made brands like Hudson, Hacks, and Trebor were available.

The cherry-red Hudson and the black Hacks were considered sweets for grown-ups, taken as cough relievers or breath fresheners by smokers, while the minty Trebor found a following in children where Spearmint gums were not available.

In Terengganu, where I grew up, a child's daily life was made sweeter with the traditional sagun, which was a mix of fried coconut shavings mixed with white sugar.

Wrapped in coloured paper cones, they were sold for five or 10 cents.

A crunchy substitute for candies, sagun had to be munched slowly or one risked choking on the bits because the dry stuff had the tendency to make its way into the windpipe.

In the 1970s, when my family moved to KL, I was introduced to the Khok-Khok Th'ng or white molasses candy with bits of peanuts and sesame seeds.

Its name came from the clanking of two metal chisels used to chip off bits of the candy from a granite-like slab in a tray mounted on the seller's tricycle.

These candy pieces were hard as a rock, not very sweet, and were cheap.

Ten cents could get you 10 to 12 pieces, each the size of an adult's thumb and took a long time to finish even if you chewed on them.

Another popular candy was the Beh Geh Koh or malt candy in Hokkien. Unlike the Khok-Khok Th'ng, the Beh Geh Koh was translucent, yellowish, and sticky.

The candy could be found during religious festivals. They were mounted on satay sticks for five cents a piece.

The sticks of candy were works of art. Experienced sellers could shape the pliable Beh Geh Koh into almost any form, be it a fish, bird, figurine or even a rose with its petals in full bloom.

More common at that time, however, was the cotton candy.

Whenever a fun fair or circus came to town, you could bet that the cotton candy peddler was not far away. In the villages, sometimes, a peddler on bicycle would drop by once a fortnight.

Carrying a hand-cranked cotton candy machine at the back of his bicycle, he would announced his arrival with the noisy ring of his bicycle's bell.

Cotton candies were originally white, later pink dye was used to make the candy more appealing.

The candy was extremely sweet and could give you a toothache if the bits got into a cavity in your tooth.

Eating it was not as interesting as watching the candy peddler weave the sugar strands into a cocoon the size of a rugby ball, which would melt with a lick.

Homemade candies too were common, usually prepared for occasions like weddings and festivals, as well as for snacks.

Most families knew how to make coconut and ginger candies. Ginger candy, I remember, was used as a home remedy to relieve stomach gas after an oily meal.

You can still find some of these traditional sweets in smaller towns.

With changing times and the call for less sugar in our diet, some of the traditional candies are no longer available and modern sugar-free candies have replaced them, although not necessarily a healthier alternative.

Recently, the Consumers Association of Penang (CAP) called for the ban on luminous lollipops that were widely sold on the island.

The fluorescent candies were believed to contain toxic chemicals which made them glow.

CAP was worried about the health hazard.

Although I have yet to find luminous lollipops in Klang Valley, I was surprised to see popping candies at a shop in a shopping centre recently.

These crackling sweets first arrived on our shores in the 1980s.

The candy grains pop like mini firecrackers when put in the mouth as they come into contact with saliva.

Parents at the time had also expressed their concerns about little children choking on them.

But it seems that the popping candies survived two decades to crackle another day.

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