There’s a communal dimension
to the candy that you eat as a kid.
Take for example, Nerds, which debuted when I was in grade school and quickly achieved a popular currency among my classmates. Every kid in school coveted them, and to get your hands on a package was to participate in what felt like a genuine phenomenon. Like buying a top 40 record on its way up the charts.
Being Asian and growing up with few other Asians as friends, however, there was very little street cred to be found in Botan Rice Candy, which my parents would treat me to when we visited the local Vietnamese grocery store. It came in a bizarre, watermelon–colored package, decorated with obscure, baroque Japanese imagery that might have resonated with kids in Tokyo but was a mystery to me entirely.
Still, I adored its wonderfully simple, colorless sweetness and, most of all, delighted in how its rice paper wrapping was designed to literally dissolve in my mouth. I’d let the entire piece of candy sit on my tongue until my saliva liquefied the rice paper into nothingness—possibly my first introduction to culinary magic—before the sugary core would finally hit my taste buds. The rice paper itself was more or less flavorless, but that made it even better—a secret message passed along in the preferred medium of children: nutrition–free sweets. I never tried to share my Botan Rice Candy with kids at school; sometimes as a kid it’s nice to have a secret.
Khoi Vinh is the design director for NYTimes.com, and the author of Subtraction.com. He was born in Viet Nam and came to the United States when he was three.