Embrace the many-colored treats at It’Sugar.
“Candy, Candy, Candy I can’t let you go
All my life you’re haunting me, I loved you so.” — Iggy Pop
It is a truth universally acknowledged that candy is for kids. As we grow up, dentists convince us it’s bad: “All your teeth will fall out of your head!” We sigh and reluctantly abandon sugary treats, losing the jolt of excitement we used to feel when peering through the windows of a candy store.
But hey, we can be responsible adults and indulge once in a while, right? It’s surely worth it just to get that sense of wonder back, if only for an hour. And why rest with those tired standbys: Milky Ways, Red Vines and Hershey Bars? On a quest for candy thrills, Isthmus took a tour of Madison’s candy shops to find some lesser-known and sometimes just plain bizarre candy.
It’s more or less Willy Wonka land at It’Sugar, 542 State St., with an emphasis on the weird. Witness the world’s largest gummy worm, which lives up to its billing at the length, width and weight of a baby boa constrictor. When sliced lengthwise, the cherry sections resemble nothing so much as ahi nigiri, all rosy-red and quivering to the touch. It’Sugar is home to many other peculiar candy treats, like the similarly oversized five-pound gummy bear, nearly the size of an infant child. Expecting couples could practice childrearing with this thing. As far as outlandish candy with not even esthetically redeeming values, the Toxic Waste Drums Sour candy 12-pack case is tough to beat. These sizzle on the tongue like sulphuric acid, and the packaging is festooned with warnings about how eating too much at a time can make your head explode, like that old urban legend about Mikey, the Coca-Cola and the Pop Rocks.
Tucked into the Shorewood Shopping Center, 3240 University Ave., this narrow grocery deals in candy that will be unusual to many in the U.S. Soft Malang Cow is a Korean strawberry-flavored milky chew, kind of like a creamier, mellower Starburst. Plum candy is big here: plum hard candies with a swirl of vanilla, plum lollipops, plum taffy. Why is plum so unusual in the States, anyway? Instead of gummy bears, there are what look like gummy tapeworms, with a smiling plum-flavored head tapering into a ribbed lime flipper. Frankly, this one freaked me out. Prince of Peace ginger candy is “100% natural” and is made of ginger extract immersed in super-chewy goo, dusted with confectioners’ sugar. Takes two minutes to eat one.
The old-school pharmacy at 3506 Monroe St. used to sell the candy cigarettes with perfect logo imitations and names like Victory Smokes, but those are frowned upon nowadays. You can, however, get the even older-school “Nik-L-Nips,” little wax bottles filled with syrup. Bite the top off and then suck out the syrup, or chew the whole mass up, like a cow with cud. The east-side store at 1255 Williamson St. has these as well.
This bodega at 1326 S. Midvale Blvd. has an excellent selection of Mexican candies. Rollo de Guayaba is a sugared guava roll about the size and shape of a dill pickle; it’s eaten like a fruit roll-up but is thicker and less elastic. Chongos de Tamarindo are sweet and sour; this candy is made from the pod-like fruit of the tamarind tree. Bandera de Coco is tri-colored for the Mexican flag and is a coconut-flavored hard candy. This place is awesome.
Whoops, 555 S. Midvale Blvd., is more of a toy store, but it also carries the addictive and devious Zotz. These little pieces of candy are like fireballs, initially sweet, then becoming explosive in the middle. They are sold individually and come in a rainbow of colors, flavored from watermelon to cherry to grape. These are so potent, you get a lot of bang for your buck.
Don’t get too complicated with your questions at Inter Market, 5317 Old Middleton Rd., unless you speak Russian. This small grocery is packed with interesting foods from Latvia, Estonia, Lithuania and Mother Russia. Because package lettering is in Cyrillic, you’ll have to eat whatever you bought before you know what it is. This is candy as discovery. If the label bears a white cat wearing a sweater sniffing an enormous pink flower...what’s that gonna taste like? In the case of an orange-and-green-striped bag depicting a cow surrounded by flowers and floating, iridescent hearts, the surprises turned out to be thumb-sized caramel, fudge and almond paste calorie bombs dunked in dark chocolate. And Shipuchka turned out to be, more or less, a Zotz.