Chengdu was one of the last stops on our trip around China. By the time we got there we were sore and tired. Thanks to a mix up we were also staying about 30kms out of town. As a result we spent a lot more time lounging about and a little less time exploring. We still got to spend several hours at Chengdu Panda Base, we had a 34-course degustation at Yu’s Family Kitchen, and we saw Face Changing Opera after dinner at a teahouse. We may have missed out on fiery Sichuan hot pot and hunting down a supposedly popular street food, but we did get to learn about these toffee lollipops they were selling all over the city.
Chengdu’s historical district is a bit like Adelaide’s Leigh Street. The ‘traditional’ buildings and streets are obviously a facade, but there’s still a genuine charm. When I first saw the lollipops I thought they were made of glass or coloured plastic. Then I realised they were actually made of sugar. These were brightly coloured designs. They even had 3D candy that looked like lanterns on sticks. We saw them again at the People’s Park where they seemed to be making and selling the lollipops on every corner.
They keep a pot of toffee hidden somewhere below (I’m assuming with a burner nearby). Using a spoon the designs are made on a large, possibly marble, board. They only use a spoon and a small cranked pallet knife. The pallet knife is used to spread and flatten the larger bits, and the more delicate details are drizzled. Once the design is finished a wooden skewer is pressed down the centre. Once they’re set the lollipops are tied in a bag and placed in the stand.
One of my favourite parts is the spinning dial. At first glance it looks like some kind of zodiac chart, but it’s actually used for selecting a design. You can spin the dial, and the lollipop maker will make whatever it lands on. They’re such a great idea for kids. Everything about them is fun. They’re also so thin that they’re not likely to give you a sugar overload.
We bought the butterfly first from a lady who had pre-made her lollipops and wasn’t making any more while we were there. After walking around the park we came across another couple who were actually making the lollipops. I got to watch them drizzling and spreading the toffee, and I got to take a picture. I didn’t want to snap away without buying something, so I bought the bird as well.
The toffee is sweet and sticky, and of course I managed to get some of the snapped off toffee on my top. I can see myself playing around with these lollipops in my kitchen, perhaps while I’m at it I should be practicing my chocolate filigrees as well. It would be so much fun setting up something like this at a local market in Adelaide. The lollipops themselves are nothing special, but the process of choosing and making them is a real treat. If they weren’t so delicate I’d consider practicing something like this for the upcoming Sweet Swap.
I’d love a chance to get to know Chengdu a bit better with a little bit more energy. It’s been named a Unesco City of Gastronomy and there’s so much more I’d like to try. Plus, if there’s ever a good reason to visit Chengdu: Pandas.