Ottawa·Cool with Cold

For Yi Jiang and her family, winter weather brings a sweet taste of home

As part of CBC Ottawa's series Cool with Cold, learn how to make tanghulu, a delicious treat from northern China that's best enjoyed in chilly winter weather.

Learn how to make tanghulu, a delicious treat from northern China that's best enjoyed when it's chilly out

Make your own tanghulu

CBC News Ottawa

2 months ago
2:42
Yi Jiang teaches her kids about the northern Chinese winter candy you can only make when it's cold outside, in this video by freelancer Fangliang Xu. 2:42

Winter is a difficult time for many, particularly during a pandemic. Cool with Cold is a CBC Ottawa series highlighting people who've found creative ways to embrace the season, safely.

Click here to meet a father teaching his son a traditional Inuit winter gamea family bringing Mongolian knucklebone back, or to discover why birding is better in winter.


It's a treat Yi Jiang and her kids look forward to all year long, and it can be made right in their own backyard — as long as it's cold enough. 

Tanghulu is a candied fruit snack enjoyed during the winter in northern China. The treat has been around since the 9th-century Song Dynasty, and is found at food stalls in street markets. 

"In northern China, the winter is pretty cold and the temperature is always below zero," said Jiang. "You have to eat tanghulu outside and finish it as soon as possible, or the syrup will become messy and sticky."

'I hope they can try the food that I ate when I was kid," said Yi Jiang, pictured here sharing tanghulu with her children, Sunny Jiang and Jenny Sun. (Fangliang Xu)

'I can't resist'

Growing up, Jiang learned how to make tanghulu from her mother. Now, she makes it for her own family in Ottawa. 

"It is a great opportunity for my kids to be connected with the Chinese tradition," said Jiang.

Sunny, 9, and Jenny, 6, say it's one reason they look forward to winter.

"When my mom boils it, she boils it into a sticky thing and then she makes it into gluey ice," said Sunny. "It melts in my mouth. I can't resist the sweetness."

Tanghulu is a street treat in northern China, 'like BeaverTails in Ottawa,' Jiang said. (Fangliang Xu)

It's all about the timing

To make tanghulu, Jiang starts by boiling sugar in some water on an outdoor stove. While she's waiting, she skewers small pieces of fruit on sticks. Once the sugar mixture has turned into a dark syrup, it's time to dip the fruit to form the sweet coating. 

Though there are only two ingredients, Jiang said it's all about the timing.

"Timing is everything. If you get it right, you'll make it perfectly."

Traditionally, tanghulu is made from the bright red haws fruit, which comes from hawthorn and resembles a crab apple. Since those are difficult to find in Ottawa, Jiang uses strawberries, cherry tomatoes and grapes. 

Besides being a yummy treat, tanghulu is also steeped in symbolism.

"Tanghulu are a symbol of family reunion and happiness, so it's very popular during Chinese New Year celebrations," said Jiang.

Jiang said her kids always look forward to winter, when they can enjoy tanghulu together. (Fangliang Xu)

Sunny said eating tanghulu reminds him of being in China during the Lunar New Year.

"After I was done with dinner I grabbed one of these tanghulu and sat on the top floor of the apartment and watched the fireworks," he recalled.

Although the pandemic got in the way of a visit to China this Lunar New Year, Jiang said tanghulu serves as a sweet reminder of home and family.

If you get the timing just right, the syrup will freeze into wispy threads. (Fangliang Xu)

Make your own Tanghulu

Ingredients:

  • 4 cups sugar
  • 1 cup water
  • 50 pieces of fruits (grapes, strawberries, cherry tomatoes, etc.)

You'll also need 10 bamboo sticks, plus one extra for testing the syrup.

Directions:

Wash fruit and dry thoroughly. Skewer five pieces per stick. 

Heat the sugar and water on medium heat. Stir until the sugar dissolves, then keep at a low boil. When the sugar solution begins turning dark, dip a stick into the syrup, then place it in cold water. If the syrup hardens around the stick, it's ready. 

Now dip the fruit into the sugar solution and rotate the stick. If you're doing this outdoors, you'll have to do it quickly while the syrup is still runny. The syrup will form lots of thin threads. If you roll them together, it will resemble a bird's nest.

Wait until the coating is completely hardened. If it's really cold out, five minutes should be enough. Enjoy the crunch!

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