Louis To opens up his candy shop in Cheung Chau, one of the remote islands in Hong Kong. Mr. To is one of the best sugar blowers around.
And one of the last. People in Hong Kong and China have blown sugar into candy for over 600 years. But now very few keep up the old work. Just like candy blowers before him, Mr. To heats syrup. He skillfully pulls and cuts the hot material into a figure of a deer.
“Sugar sculpture, sugar blowing, and sugar painting—these three skills make a legit ‘sugarman,’” he says.
A sugarman shapes a sugar dough with scissors or by hand. He also forms candy by blowing air into it. Mr. To blows the shape. Then he adds additional features.
Many modern candymakers shape sugar dough using molds. But Mr. To follows traditional methods. He uses his bare hands. That’s tricky. The sugar must be hot or it won’t shape correctly. But it can’t be so hot that it burns the sugarman’s hands.
The candy also tells the story of Hong Kong. Decades ago, many people in Hong Kong were poor. When they couldn’t afford expensive toys, parents would buy blown sugar candy for their kids. People now in their 40s and 50s likely played with these candies as children. The sweets are often shaped like characters in Chinese folk stories. Mr. To has mastered making China’s beloved mythical dragons.
In the 1990s, Hong Kong residents got richer. The “folk culture” candy making became less popular. Now people wonder: What will happen if no sugarmen remain? Who will pass on the candy craft to others?
My son, eat honey, for it is good, and the drippings of the honeycomb are sweet to your taste. — Proverbs 24:13
Why? In Hong Kong, a candy craft connects people to their past.