Central Vietnam is welcoming the hottest season. The village roads in Hoi An are empty. While kids and adults choose to stay in their comfort zone with aircons and cool fresh smoothie in the fridge, under the scorching 38-degree Celsius, in the shimmering sound of cicadas and the creaking of old bamboo lines, there is an old tanned man come with a pleasant bell chime and long cry of “who wants kẹo kéo?”, which does break the tranquility of a summer noon.
“Kẹo kéo” – A gift of childhood
“Kẹo kéo” – a simple snack which was tasted by any Vietnamese when they were children. In Vietnamese, Kẹo means candies and kéo means dragging or pulling. When putting 2 words together, it means “dragging candies”. “Kẹo kéo” are usually made from malt or molasses, peanut and sesame. Malt or molasses are cooked in medium heat until it is just ready. People stir it thoroughly and then pour it on a big piece of clean fabric, then add roasted peanut and sesame in the middle and wrap it like a big arm-length block. When we eat, just drag that block into a mouthful shape and serve. The thing is the candy-sellers have to pull the candy over and over again to make sure that the final sweets include both malt, and nuts inside. The final product must be so sticky that after a bite, upper and lower teeth feel like they stick tightly together for a second, then the sweet fragrance and the rich flavor of roasted peanut and sesame start to melt out and spread over our mouth. Anyone who have a chance to taste once always want another bite. To the kids like us at that time, when chocolate was just a luxurious symbol we only heard on radio, “Kẹo kéo” was our heaven.
This kind of candy, in our memory, did not cost much. Back then,around 15 years ago, a piece of keo keo just cost 2.000 VND, which is 10 cents nowadays. Because of its affordability, we tended to exchange stuff to get this magical sweet gift. Those were usually used bottles, torn flip-flops, old newspapers, or even granny slovely white hair. It was funny that we did wish granny could had more slovely hair. We looked forward to hear the bell chime every afternoon.
The sight of children running after a “Kẹo kéo” scooter on their bare feet, holding old bottles and flip-flops to exchange while their mouths kept asking for “Kẹo kéo”, seem to have become a picture of childhood imprinted in our mind.
“Kẹo kéo” – A gift of childhood which is now becoming forgotten
In these days, as life’s getting better, there are a large number of delicious, good-looking label, many Vietnamese children don’t know about the unique flavors of “Kẹo kéo”. Just walk around supermarket and kids can buy endless kinds of domestic and imported snacks. They seem not have enough patient to get a piece of candy pulled and served. Also once in a blue moon do we hear a cry out loud of “Who wanna “Kẹo kéo” in the town of Hoi An. Sometimes we wonder, what we miss about “Kẹo kéo”, is whether a delightful taste or the feeling of eagerness as expecting something sweet in childhood deprivation in the old days.