It’s syrupy sweet, tastes nothing like apricots, and gets rock hard after about a week if exposed to even a little bit of air. What is it? It’s strange apricot candy of course! I’m a candy freak and love trying novel types of candy, especially if the approach to the candy is unique in packaging or by its very design. When traveling abroad, stopping by local convenience stores is one of the things I most enjoy doing since it allows me to observe the locals in a non-tourist environment, and gives me the chance to sample and observe the candy they have available for sale, which often differs much from what were used to seeing at the checkout counter.
I first came across the strange apricot candy in a convenience store run by a grisly unkempt shopkeeper in a country that calls candy “sweets”. The store was somewhat of the antithesis of a seven eleven. It was small, dark and there was a constant din of computer generated music and sound effects emanating from the 1980s arcade games the shopkeeper had lining the walls. Strung across the ceiling was a long piece of clothesline and hanging from their spines like mutilated corpses with splayed legs were current magazines and comic books. The centerpiece of the small room was the counter, which was built up like a fortifying barrier. It was made of wood, and had dozens of glass lined compartments that contained candy bars and various types of loose unpackaged candy that was sold cheaply. It reminded me very much of the sweet shops of old that I’d read about that sold penny candy and confections in a multitude of colors and flavors well before plastic and packaging became the norm.
On top of the counter were various glass jars containing more brightly colored confections. One such jar held an orange candy that was roughly diamond shaped yet completely round, and was painted as if by airbrush with a spray of red coloring. From afar, perhaps, one could perhaps make out that it was trying to resemble a fruit. It was, of course, the strange apricot candy.
I asked the shopkeeper the price and he grunted a reply. It was inexpensive if nothing else, so I bought a few of them and left the store. Later that evening, perhaps after a meal, I was pleasantly surprised to find them still in my pocket. Fancying this a cheap and efficient dessert, I tried one of them. As I bit into it, I was surprised to find that the center was very soft. The taste exploded in my mouth but was hard to place. It certainly wasn’t apricots I tasted, but it was sweet and delicious nonetheless.
After finishing one of the pieces, I was also surprised at how addictive it was. I had to have another and before long, had finished all of the four pieces I had purchased. They are almost too sweet though, as if made almost entirely out of spun sugar and while you can’t stop eating them, you realize you’re reaching a point where it’s too much. In retrospect, its quirky qualities bear a striking resemblance to the much-loved “circus peanut” which is soft and chewy, also very sweet and tastes nothing like peanuts, but rather has a banana flavor.
The next day I returned to find to the store to buy more and perhaps to find out what they were called. The shopkeeper said they were called simply “soft apricots,” and showed me the packaging they came in, which was a plastic bag with a grotesque smiling cartoon head. The name was written in script at the top of the package and, as he said, was simply called “soft apricots.” Other than the manufacturer’s address, there was little else on the package.
When I asked some of my local friends about the candy, they immediately knew of it and reactions ranged from disgust to joyful reminiscence. Apparently the apricot candy is a long-loved local favorite and is manufactured by various companies. Each manufacturer makes an attempt at it, some more successful than others, I discovered, in my attempt to try some of the different brands. Some that I tasted were horrible and had an artificial apricot flavor and others fared only slightly better. The best of the lot was the first one I tried—the one that came in the smiling-head bag. Apparently only available to convenience stores by wholesale outlets, I had a connection get a bag of the candies for me so I could take some home with me. Satisfied with myself for discovering something new, I was excited to share my discovery with friends and family.
By the time I unpacked it though, I was in for a surprise. Rather than the soft chewy center I was accustomed to, the candy had grown hard and brittle and I nearly cracked my teeth in the process of biting into it. The shards of this strange delight did maintain its flavor, however, for what it’s worth. It seems the candy has a very short shelf life when exposed to air. My package was not opened during my trip home, but upon inspection had a few small holes in the bag, and these must have caused the rapid decay.
Friends were unwilling to try the rock hard candy with the strange color and shape, and those who did try it didn’t see the need for a second sample. I must agree that much of its appeal was now gone since it hardened and therefore I still have much of the bag left in my cupboard. Maybe I’ll get rid of them soon enough, but for now, it reminds me of the rest of my sweet adventure abroad, which is a taste I’d like to have linger for just a moment longer.