Photo credit: Nanyang Flavours

An ancient delicacy worthy of emperors, the Dragon’s Beard candy originated from the Han dynasty and is made in the most intricate way. Traditionally, malt as hard as rock is heated and pulled into strands finer than hair, which are then wrapped around a savoury filling. Each bite of the delicacy releases a rich aromatic flavour and as royals ate them, stray strands would sometimes cascade down their chins, reminiscent of a Dragon’s beard — thus its name.

In Singapore, homegrown food artiste and founder of Nanyang Flavours, Roger Poon, has been keeping this unique culinary craft alive. Taking the mantle from Dragon’s Beard master (and his cousin), Ho Lili, Roger has brought the treat to a whole new level. The clever innovation of the ‘Dragon’s Elixir’, for example, allows people to breathe out ‘dragon’s breath’ (white smoke) — a millennial twist even his traditional mentor was intrigued by despite her strict principles of keeping true to the original recipe. So how does Roger continue to uphold royal standards for a delicacy that is slowly changing with times? We speak to him to find out.

P.S. This would make a uniquely local gift to bring home from Singapore, so read on to find out where you can get it with a special discount!

What inspired you to take up this age-old culinary art and keep the tradition alive?

“If nobody continued Aunty Lili’s work, authentic Dragon’s Beard would disappear in Singapore. She only teaches family members and I was the chosen one! Her Singaporean variant of the candy is unique. In fact, she was the only master innovative enough to create a version of the delicacy that held up in Singapore’s hot and humid weather!”

Roger Poon, traditional food artiste and owner of Nanyang Flavours

Apart from being a food artiste, Roger Poon is also a businessman and a trained actor. Photo credit: Roger Poon

What is it like being the Dragon’s Beard Candy Man?

“Being in the Dragon’s Beard business is not easy. You have to wake up early in the morning every day to cook the malt, and you’ll be pulling malt all day by hand until you go home late at night. There’s just so much artistry to it, and we want to pass it down. That’s why we occasionally hold live theatrical performances in schools, so the children can be exposed to this intricate culinary art. Kids can hear the story of the Dragon’s Beard and even get a chance to make it for themselves.” 

Roger Poon, making dragon’s beard candy for primary school students in Singapore

Part of keeping culture alive is passing it on to the next generation, and Roger does that through his edutainment programs. Photo credit: Nanyang Flavours

Tell us about Nanyang Flavours’ journey thus far.

“Did you know, only 12 percent of Singaporeans know about Dragon’s Beard candy? Those who do, might not even know where to get authentic Dragon’s Beard (made with malt instead of corn syrup). There’s a challenge to preserve this craft so it doesn’t become a dying trade — and to do so, we have to keep up with the times. That means we need to constantly reinvent the craft to appeal to the younger generations. We’re looking at new flavours like nasi lemaksalted egg yolk and gula melaka. But even when we innovate, one thing remains — we only ever use pure malt, pure flour and pure peanuts with no preservatives.”

Video credit: Great Big Story

What can we find at Nanyang Flavours?

“You can find the Dragon’s Beard at our store in Roxy Square. We have three types of fillings: roasted peanut for the traditionalist, black sesame for the fans of Japanese cuisine and freshly shaved coconut for a stronger Southeast Asian flavour. You need to put in an order first though, because we make them fresh every day.”

Address: #01-103 Roxy Square 2, 50 East Coast Road, Singapore 428769

Dragon’s Beard from Nanyang Flavours in travel ready packaging

Bring a pack of colourful Dragon’s Beard home in their new travel-friendly packaging. Photo credit: Nanyang Flavours

What’s next for Nanyang Flavours?

“Organisations sometimes get in touch with us to exhibit at their events where we’d make the Dragon’s Beard live in front of guests. But in the near future, we’re focusing on bringing this delicacy overseas. We’ve vacuum-packed and tested them on long flights, so we’re sure they’re ready to travel — which means our foreign friends can take this delicacy home!”

In Roger’s words, “You don’t just pull Dragon’s Beard, you make it a performance.” This delicacy is one not to be missed as Roger combines his family heritage, love for theatrics and storytelling to make the unique malt candy. Worthy of royalty, this melt-in-your-mouth morsel of goodness is sure to delight your palates — and with their new vacuum-packed versions, those of your loved ones back home too!

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This is the first of our ‘Live Like a Local’ series featuring Singaporeans and their authentic stories. Stay tuned to more in the upcoming months.