Beyond Wonka Oct30

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Beyond Wonka

Candy fans, bring your wallets and make sure you’ve set aside plenty of time for Aji Ichiban, a unique and wacky standout stop among the plethora of markets and food shops in NYC’s Chinatown.

Sleek clear plastic bins wrap around the entire interior of these stores, in which the staff are helpful and don’t mind if you meander around for a while. The candy bins encourage you to sample the wares free of charge – seriously, you can try dozens of candies without the clerks even lifting an eyebrow – which is a good thing, since you probably haven’t heard of half of the candies and, erhm, treats offered for sale.

Willy Wonka – as innovative as the man was – would definitely be taken aback by more than a few of Aji Ichiban’s candies. Dried Salted Plums are a unique contrast in flavors, while a few bins away are Wasabi Cashews and Chocolate “Rocks,” shaped like pebbles, of course. Gummis in varieties like Sweet Corn and Durian (beware) are a mere step away from Fruit-Flavored Beef Jerky; Sesame, Mango, and “Pudding” flavored Marshmallows; and Green Tea Latte lozenges.

The shop’s a visual treat, too – literally candy for the eyes, as the saying goes. Dried flavored spicy miniature crabs smaller than a dime rest in one bin, with candy chews, Mochi cakes, and boxes with bright labels all stacked up in the middle of the store.  (The artwork on much of the candy is as interesting to look at as the candies themselves.) Once you get your eyes to settle, you’ll find it easiest to start at one end of the store and work your way around to the register.

For the skittish, there are – yes, Skittles – as well as more tame Gummi candies in a wide variety of shapes from flowers to soda bottles, plus many of the recognizable American candy names such as KitKats, albeit with the foreign flair of flavors not generally available stateside, such as orange and caramel.

But honestly, you can get those things at any corner store – why are you here if you’re not looking for a real candy adventure?

GO | There are several Aji Ichiban locations across Manhattan (we like the one right at the colorful intersection of Pell and Mott Streets in Chinatown) – take a sneak peek online before you go via their official website.

COST | Grab a bag and fill it up for $2.50 a quarter pound (no minimum purchase) – just make sure you make a little note somewhere as to what things are, since many of the candies aren’t labeled after you remove them from their bins.

DON’T MISS | Candy Belts, an elevated version of gummi candy with dense flavor stripes and a dusting of sour granulated sugar. – Kristi Kates