I’m a pretty adventurous person in most respects and one of my favorite past-times involves choosing one or two complete unknowns during my trips to different Asian markets and giving them a shot. They could be odd fruits, strange frozen goods, even stranger meats, strange frozen goods stuffed with stranger meats, or some things that defy categorization and might not even actually be edible. Sometimes it is a big mistake (Durian popsicles, candied dried/salted squid, Bao with fish balls inside, beef leaves, and many more) but sometimes it works out. Enter Haw Flakes. The first time I bought these I found a small package with 10 Necco-sized rolls that appeared to be fireworks or something akin to mothballs… but the one Chinese character I could make out was for sugar. So I felt it was relatively safe to ingest the little red discs. Not far away from a mothball taste-wise, but it was sweet and red… and surprisingly this was OK to me and made me want more. Yeah, something ain’t right upstairs :)
Then I came across high-end haw flakes, nice deep red discs in a vaccuum packed pouch that were moist and delicious. Now we were getting somewhere! Then Haw roll-ups, and haw candy, and anything I could find with some haw in it… I was hooked. They are sweet, slightly bitter, berry/fruity flavored, and a damn good time. Then I actually figired out what haw was, and that it grows like weeds all around me and known well for big thorns that are not friendly during treks in the woods.
In fact as an aside, my grandfather recounted a story about how when he was young they would get a nice whippy willow branch and then load up on haw berries which they would stick onto the end of the branch and fling at each other at high rates of speed for fun. Depression-era paintball was thus invented.
I now tend to enjoy the jellied roll-up style haw over the flakes by a large margin, but still keep a package of rolls within reach of anywhere I may be: work, car, home, desk, shed, or bathtub. OK so maybe not the shed or bathtub… but maybe…