Chinese treat reserved for royalty delights San Francisco foodies

ByJuan Carlos Guerrero KGO logo
Wednesday, January 22, 2020
Chinese treat reserved for royalty delights SF foodies
A San Francisco dessert shop, Dragon Papa Dessert, is one of less than a handful of places that make Dragon's Beard candy, which was first made about 2,000 years ago for the Chinese emperor. It is made by stretching and twisting a disc of raw molasses.

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Take a stroll along Grant Street in San Francisco's Chinatown and you will see it - a tiny shop with tourists and cellphone cameras pinned to the window.

Inside, the Tam family is making Dragon's Beard candy.

Derek Tam and his father, Shing Tam, opened Dragon Papa Dessert in 2015 shortly after moving to the Bay Area from Hong Kong.

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The family has been making Dragon's Beard candy for five generations.

"My great, great, great, grandfather used to make this candy in the Beijing palace for the emperor," said the younger Tam as he stood behind the store counter while his father sat nearby preparing the treat.

According to legend, Dragon's Beard was first made about 2,000 years ago by a candy maker looking to wow a Han dynasty emperor inside the royal palace.

It is made by warming a round disk of raw molasses and then stretching and twisting it by hand dozens of times until it resembles silky threads. Bits are torn off and rolled with chopped peanuts, coconut and sesame seeds.

"The correct way to eat Dragon's Beard candy is to not put the whole thing in your mouth because it is kind of chewy and it will stick in your mouth," said Derek Tam as he bit off half of the confection, which resembles a silky cocoon.

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The candy got its name because the threads tend to stick to the chin when it is eaten.

The treat, which can only be made by hand, became a dessert reserved only for royalty. The dragon is the symbol of Chinese emperors.

Similar candies are made in China, Singapore, Korea and Hong Kong. A similar treat is made In Turkey and Iran where the silky threads are filled with pistachios.

In the United States, it is compared to cotton candy, but it is not as sweet.

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Only a few people know how to make Dragon Beard's candy in this country.

That makes Derek treasure his candy making heritage even more.

"That is the Dragon Papa," he said as he pointed at his father. "And I am the dragon son."

Dragon Papa
725 Grant Avenue
San Francisco
(415) 539-7728

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