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Oct 4, 2000 06:06 PM

Chinatown breakfast emergency request!!! Where are good pork buns?

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I swung by Sun Say Kai at the corner of Baxter and Walker (just off Canal) on the way to the jury room for a bun and coffee, and it was closed for renovations! I hpe that that is all it is, since this is one of my favorites. Not having much time, I went accross the street to Dragon Land, a very chrome-y place, and had an awful baked roast pork bun. The filling was too finely ground and too sweet, and the pastry tasted as if it had been microwaved, even though I got it off the shelf.

Where are the good buns??? I may only have one more day of jury duty, so I have limited opportunities to explore for myself. There has been a proliferation of sterile-looking places a la Marias.

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    Steven Stern

    It may fall too much into the shiny-and-sterile category, but I've always liked Sanky--the one on Bowery and Hester, not the one on Grand. They do a corn and egg bun that'll keep you going all day.

    1 Reply
    1. re: Steven Stern

      Its been a number of years, but you might check out the dumpling shop at the corner of Mott and Mosco - or the big established bakery approximately across the street (maybe a block up)on Mott.

    2. Hi Alan - you might want to try and see if the pork buns at Hop Shing (on Chatham Sq.)are still good. I have not had them in quite a long time. This was the first place I tried when I moved to NY many years ago.

      17 Replies
      1. re: Gary Cheong

        They are still the best according to some, including my MIL. I have had the steamed ones, and although they are full of thinly-sliced meat, if you expect little extras in the filling like onions, you may be disappointed.

        1. re: Maria Eng

          Glad to know the roast pork buns at Hop Shing's are still good. I do remember the slivers of onions in the baked ones. Which kind do you prefer? I only have the steamed buns if I'm eating in the restaurant (they just don't travel well), and the baked ones for take-out. The ones in the pastry are my least favorite.

          1. re: Gary Cheong
            Jason Perlow

            I like the fluffy buns, but I have to agree the baked round ones are my favorite.

            By the way, what the hell is it with the paper things stuck to the bottom of those buns? What are they using to keep those things on, super glue? It seems that when ever I get one of the larger ones to take out from any of these places it requires meticulous skill to take them off without leaving paper on the bun.

            I like the smaller buns rather than the bigger ones -- the pastry ones are good if they are small and the pork is really well minced and sweet, almost like a dessert.

            1. re: Gary Cheong

              I've only ever had the steamed ones, so I have been missing out on the onions, but I am very impressed by the texture of their steamed bread casing - Extremely dense and bready, no "skin" on the outside, and they travel pretty well. My MIL brought them out to us one Sat. for brunch and we microwaved them under silicone paper. They were pretty damn good for re-heated, so I'm guessing straight out of the steamer must be even greater.

              1. re: Maria Eng
                Melanie Wong

                Have your in-laws taught you to peel off the "skin"? This was the rule when I was young, but not so common now.

                1. re: Melanie Wong

                  Now that you mentioned it, I do remember when I was a kid, my mother always made me peel off the skin (why, I have no idea). I actually like eating the steamed buns with the "skin" ON.

                  1. re: Gary Cheong
                    Melanie Wong

                    I'd forgotten about it myself until I noticed a friend who grew up in KL do this recently. He said his mother taught him that way.

                    First you need to know that the glossy skin comes from spraying a mist of water on the uncooked buns. In the old days before there were spray bottles, the cooks would put the water in their mouths and spit it out in a fine mist. My dad said that when he saw this as a boy he was impressed by the surface area and number of trays they could cover with one mouthful.

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      Steven Stern

                      Kinda gives a new meaning to "spit-roasting."

                  2. re: Melanie Wong

                    Nobody in our family ever did that (what's the resoning behind it, BTW?) and there's no need to on these buns. They are the dense, bready kind which split a little at the top.
                    When my daughter was just learning to eat solid food, the skin was the only part of any bun she would eat. It was a fine arrangement - she got the skin and I got everything else!

                    1. re: Maria Eng

                      OOPs! they are indeed dense and bready, but Husband swears they are the smooth round ones. Split-at-the-top is Me after a long day of mothering.

            2. re: Gary Cheong

              At great risk to waistline and arteries, and even worse, putting my appetite for lunch on the line, I skipped a congee breakfast on Thursday on the way to the jury room to explore pork buns. I picked up buns from 4 places, and here is the report. Although I couldn’t help but sample some steamed buns, this brief survey focuses on the eggy baked buns with roast pork filling:
              Canal Fun on Canal – undistinguished, but acceptable in a pinch. Slightly better than Dragonland, which I reported on originally. The meat was shredded and there were not many flavors other than sweet.
              Mei Lei Wah on Bayard between Elizabeth and Mott. I remember these with affection from when I worked in the neighborhood in the early 80s. The meat filling was very tasty, slightly smoky and brown, and in a largish dice. Unfortunately, there was not much of it, and the pastry itself was too dry and not at all sweet. I also had a steamed bun from here which was not especially good. It is a great place, though. It was filled with Chinese, mostly elderly men. There were No Smoking and No Spitting signs, and at least the latter was being obeyed.
              Hop Shing on Chatham Square: This is the one that Gary had recommended. The filling was sliced roast pork with onions, excellent flavor, not too sweet, and there was plenty of it, marred only by a slight gloppiness. The bun was very tender and also not too sweet. There was no paper on the bottom of the bun that you had to remove, which was very nice.
              Sun Hop Shing, at Mott and Mosco, recommended by Jen Kalb. The bun was very similar to Hop Shing, similar filling, and pastry, no paper on the bottom. It was a bit sweeter, and the filling here was not as gloppy. I wonder, given the similarity of name and product, whether they are related, and that the difference was perhaps just a variance in the batch.
              So, there it is. My favorites are definitely Hop Shing and Sun Hop Shing, with perhaps a slight edge to Hop Shing because it was not as sweet. I hope to continue these explorations before my next jury duty summons.

              1. re: Alan Divack

                Exemplary work, Alan!

                Hey, folks, this is the kind of pound-the-pavement, current-to-the-second chowhound reportage we all like best! I know thousands of hounds are out there checking stuff...please feel free to post notes, of whatever length, for the benefit of your fellow hounds as well as for your own chow edification (you'll surely get some expert feedback re: strategy and other choices to try).


                1. re: Alan Divack

                  Wow, great report Alan. Glad to know Hop Shing's buns are still good. Was that little take-out counter there crowded with folks waiting to order? There was always a crowd when I go -- almost feels like I'm jostling in the futures pit of the Chicago Exchange.

                  BTW, how much does each bun cost now? When I first came to NY, it was 35 cents each, an incredible and delicious bargain.

                  1. re: Gary Cheong

                    I forgot to note the price on each one, but they ranged from 50 to 70 cents, with the better ones at the lower end of the range.

                    The interesting thing is that Hop Shing was probably the least crowded place that I tried.

                    1. re: Gary Cheong

                      Just went by Hop Sing today and they were still three deep at the counter at lunchtime. I had the baked buns today, and I think they are far superior since the bread really has body, almost crusty even on the bottom. The filling is still a little gloppy though, and no mushrooms.

                    2. re: Alan Divack
                      Melanie Wong

                      It's likely that Sun Hop Shing means "new Hop Shing".

                  2. This is a little off-topic, but please don't knock Maria's and other brand-name type bakeries just because they look too "sterile" (sometimes read: clean, Western, un-authentic).
                    Maria's is the grand-daddy of the HK chain bakeries and as such deserves a modicum of respect, even if their product does swing wildly between sublime and ridiculous. Besides which, you can buy far worse stuff at many of the mom-n-pop establishments around town.
                    I used to like Maria's baked char siu bao very much because they used recogniseable chunks of roast pork without too much fat, slivered onions, and an occasional morsel of black mushroom in a not-too-sweet but admittedly gloppy sauce.

                    1. Mei Lai Wah, a little coffee shop on Bayard just west of Elizabeth St.

                      They have the best steamed pork buns I've ever found. They might have been better 12 years ago, or maybe it was the thrill of discovery. Nevertheless they still rule.


                      1 Reply
                      1. re: Patrick A.
                        David Jacobson

                        Love the pork buns at Mei Lai Wah and the super strong coffee, a friend claims it's cowboy style