Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Da Bai Tu!**
I've been challenging the temporary crown I had placed last week on pre-molar number 20 (my dentist always talks about my teeth with reference to the numbering system) with some of the curiously addictive and very chewy White Rabbit Creamy Candies I bought in Hangzhou in May during a brief and slightly pointless stop at a huge grocery and dry goods purveyor: Trust-Mart. (Perhaps "Wal" means "Trust" in Chinese?) Our expert interpreter and guide insisted we stop there to get "dunnage," which puzzled us. She said it was a word she found in the dictionary. So in addition to stocking up on bottled water and some fruit (cherries were in), I picked up a small bag of White Rabbits to complement my big solid brown Easter rabbit (da qiaokeli tu) I'd brought from home with an eye to celebrate "Year of the Rabbit" at some auspicious moment.

I never did open the bag of White Rabbits in China (although we demolished the Easter bunny in a hotel in Beijing). Only yesterday I re-discovered them among some tea snacks I'd also gotten in Hangzhou: tiny tasty dried and sugared kumquats and plums to enjoy with my longjin.

I was going to send the White Rabbits back East with the Wizard as a gift for his sister's middle school class but I selfishly broke into the bag and consumed seven of the little milky sugary buttery taffies and then thought, maybe I can buy them online (if not Chinatown--I need an excuse to go to the video store). So Googling, I find a big Wikipedia entry about the iconic sweets along with the disturbing news that, in 2008, they had been recalled all over the world because the milk powder used in them was also contaminated with melamine. I was in China when that scandal broke, but I didn't think too much about it: I was drinking tea and beer and eating mostly rice and cabbage. Hmmm...maybe not so good to send to Auntie's students.

Contemplating the little pile of wrappers crumpled on my desk (I knew enough to not eat the outer wrapper, only the inner edible rice paper one), I wondered if I'd just poisoned myself. (None of my wuxia dramas has ever mentioned an antidote for melamine.) I did learn they have just 20 calories, and most people willing to eat them agree their mild flavor is curiously comforting. Not cloyingly sweet, a whole bagful could be consumed before you know it.

Determined to save myself, I looked for a 2011 update on the White Rabbit story. It looks like the company has recovered from the incident and entered Year of Rabbit just fine. According to AFP:
The scandal bankrupted Sanlu, once one of China's largest milk firms, after six infants died and nearly 300,000 fell ill - but White Rabbit survived. The sweets, which contain 45 per cent milk powder, were relaunched in China a month later with 'melamine-free' labels and banners in stores reading 'a healthy White Rabbit is jumping back into a big market'.
I only wish I hadn't thrown away the bag, not that I could have read the expiration date. I hope these were fresh. But at least I got them at Trust-Mart!

**Big White Rabbit

We stopped by Longs (CVS) on the way home tonight and what did I find but a HUGE display of White Rabbit candy in the center aisle where all the weekly specials are. Was I channeling White Rabbits today or have they been there all along? Now I can do a taste test, comparing my Hangzhou Trust-Mart stash against Hawaii imports! Feed my head indeed! Get high on melamine?

And in all fairness to both the White Rabbit Candy Comapny and Jefferson Airplane, there is another story behind the Chinese white rabbit: it is part of a folk legend. We see a man in the moon, or perhaps green cheese, but to the Chinese, there is a rabbit in the moon. The mid-autumn festival involves a rabbit on the moon pounding herbs to make a pill of immortality. The Chinese found centuries ago that mercury wasn't the right ingredient to achieve such a goal..maybe try melamine?

And it is no surprise that White Rabbit did intend to market the new healthy product as Golden Rabbit, the special icon for 2011. Although the candy I just bought is classic White Rabbit. Maybe I have to go to the mainland to find the Golden Rabbit.

Okay. I know I'm beginning to ramble on about this...one rabbit makes you bigger, one makes you small....