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Dragon Beard Candy: What Is It, Where Is It and How Do You Make It?

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Who Is Johnny Chin?
johnny chin dragon beard candy montreal

Meet Johnny Chin, dragon beard candy master.

Photo © Evelyn Reid
Bishop's University graduate Johnny Chin was working at the senior executive level as a financial controller for a Montreal company, seemingly on the fast track to financial security, enhanced social status and career success. But he wasn't particularly happy.

Returning to his hometown Hong Kong, he discovered the ancient art of dragon beard candy that charmed him as a child was on the brink of extinction as a direct result of the cultural revolution. By the late 80s, there were maybe four dragon beard masters left in Hong Kong. One of them was Chin's brother, who bribed a disgruntled elderly master into sharing the secret of the dragon beard for $5,000.

Apprenticing under his brother, Chin perfected the art -- one that apparently can take months to years to master -- and then returned to Montreal in 1991, intent on introducing the theatrical candy-making skill to North America, concerned that part of his heritage would vanish. Chin said to The Gazette in 1991: "That's why I want to make the candy -- to preserve part of my culture." He was also smitten by the idea of being able to interact with the community in ways he never could as a number-crunching controller.

Almost twenty years later with two children in tow -- who aren't yet sure if they want to follow in Dad's footsteps -- Johnny Chin is working seven days a week in his Chinatown shop and thanks to his customers -- an assortment of tourists and locals -- he's picked up Italian and Spanish, in addition to speaking fluent English, French and his first language, Cantonese.

After enjoying the show and indulging in a couple of candies, each under one dollar, Johnny Chin generously shared with me how he makes this rare candy, a morsel of imperial history that must be eaten fresh in one mouthful to feel each delicate thread melt into the chewy center.

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