Tanghulu, Traditional Chinese Snack
Tanghulu, also called Bing Tang Hulu, is a traditional Chinese snack made of sugar-coated haws on a stick. Tanghulu can be found in many Chinese cities, but is especially popular in Beijing.
Origin of Tanghulu
It is said that in the South Song Dynasty, an imperial consort of Emperor Guangzong was ill and became weaker and weaker due to her loss of appetite. At the time, all of the imperial physicians were unable to treat the consort. Emperor Guangzong was extremely worried and therefore recruited skilled doctors to try and save her. A doctor eventually arrived and diagnosed the problem.
He told Emperor Guangzong that his consort was fine and would get well soon as long as she took his prescription. The prescription was to boil haws with crystal sugar and to eat them before meals. Several days later, the consort totally recovered. The news of the effectiveness of the remedy quickly spread to the public and suddenly became popular. People started to put the sugar-coated haws on a stick, which developed into a common snack that we now call Tanghulu.
Symbolic meaning of Tanghulu
According to traditional Chinese medicine reports, eating haws can help cure digestive problems. Besides the medical benefits, Chinese people regard Tanghulu as being a symbol of happiness and family reunion. In Beijing, Tanghulu sellers can be found very easily on the streets. The colour red is an important colour when it comes to festivities in China, so Tanghulu is an essential snack to eat during Chinese New Year. People also like eating Tanghulu when going to the Temple Fair in Beijing, with both children and adults appreciating the mix of sour and sweet flavours, as well as the symbolic meaning associated with Tanghulu.
The three important parts of Tanghulu are sugar, haws and a bamboo skewer. Firstly, pick several fresh and equal-sized haws, then cut each of them open carefully and remove the seeds. After the seeds have been removed, put the two parts back together and string the haws onto a bamboo skewer. The next step is the sugar coating. Put sugar and water into a pan at a proportion of 2:1 and boil the mixture with high heat till the mixture gets ropy and turns light yellow. After this is the hard part that requires patience, delicacy and technique, which is coating the haws with a thin layer of the smooth sugar syrup. The last step is to wait several minutes to cool the Tanghulu. Cooling them on a wooden board after soaking them in cold water is the best way to cool and shape a Tanghulu.
Nowadays, Tanghulu are made out of Chinese yam, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, blueberries, bananas, pineapples, mandarins, kiwis or grapes. Some even have fillings in the haws, such as sweet bean paste, black sesame paste, ground nuts or perhaps raisins.