Chinese bakery Questions
I am heading to Chinatown on Sunday to buy food for my second grade class and their parents for a MOnday breakfast to celebrate the completion of the students' study of China. Questions:
At what time do the bakeries open/have the best selection?
Which bakeries are best?
Any suggestions for particular sweets or savories to try, particularly those that travel well and can be served at room temp?
If there aren't english translations of the items, will staff usually be proficient enoughin English to help me out?
My favorite thing to get is a Butter Bao, its simple and very tasty. A lot of sweets may not be best for young palates since there are some very different flavors than what they are probably used to (ie the use of beans as a sweet, etc) and often the foods are very rich. I would say simpler is better.
I think a standard recommendation is Eldo's, and you can't go wrong there. The safest bets are the sweet/dessert items, which are superb Chinese versions of somewhat familiar Western tastes (ie. nothing terribly adventurous). The coconut bun is what I consider an open-faced speckled Twinkie on steroids - it is awesome and you'll love it even if you don't like coconut (many of the names misrepresent how the bakery item actually tastes). Similarly, the pineapple bun, chewy denser-than-sponge cake with a flaky/crispy crust on top, is a crowd pleaser. When we had bake sales, the most popular were the roll cake slices (round slices of a cream roll cake), which comes in both sponge and chocolate flavors. They look pleasant and have a mild flavor, which many risk-averse eaters like. The most harmless is a sponge cake in a sno-cone-ish shape. My favorite for a while was the "neapolitan" one, which was a tall and thin rectangle comprised of layers of sponge cake and crispy fried pastry and cream. I can't recall if they have sesame balls, but if they do, then those are a good bet also. Egg custards are a little too adventurous for some, but if you have that kind of crowd, then go for it. The ham&egg bun is very hit or miss. A lot of people don't like them because they are perhaps too similar but not similar enough to an egg&ham sandwich.
Those were the the cheap sub-$1 recommendations. If you want something better and are willing to pay for it, the cakes are excellent. They are displayed beautifully and taste as good as they look. There are several variations along the lines mentioned above as the FOB cake - very popular with everyone upon first bite.
One secret recommendation of mine - Eldo's used to have my favorite inauthentic cheesecake. It was rather light and airy, but still creamy. Next to Junior's in Brooklyn, NY, I liked the one at Eldo's. Disclaimer: I haven't eaten it in years, because I'm trying to cut down on cheesecake in general.
I personally love Chinese style meat buns (pork, curry beef, etc.). But I've found that it's a bit strange to many. Besides, my favorite pork buns are at Double Rich bakery, which is an annoying distance from Eldo's.
By the way, I wonder if anyone knows the origin of the Asian style of baking. I have guessed that it came from the Dutch, because the word for bread (also used for buns and pastries) in Japan and Korea is similar to the word for bread in Dutch. Chinese pastries don't seem to be a native cuisine...but I'm no expert; I just eat.
I think the different bakeries have different items that taste better than others, so since the bakeries tend to be clustered together, I would recommend going to several shops if you have time.
Daan Tat (or egg custard tarts) are a chinese standard of bakeries, and a nice sweet treat. Problem is they can be very delicate. The best tends to be the ones from Royal Bakery (my apologies in advance - I cannot remember the English names sometimes of Ctown places) on Beach St. A lot of Chinese come here just for the daan tat.
Bo lo bao (lit. pineapple buns; nothing to do with pineapple though) - I really like the ones from the old Mei Sum (on other end of Beach St, by the garage), not the newer one at the corner of Beach and Harrison. Great buttery crust on top, with only a slightly sweet bun. You can often get them warm/hot from there. Oven-baked buns in general are easy to transport and will not spoil; not so if you get steamed versions of the savory buns.
I like the Gai Mei Bao from Eldo and Mei Sum. Personally, I love the ham and egg bun (fo tui daan bao) from Eldo's, but the egg can be iffy if you're not going to eat them right away.
I tend not to favor meat buns, but cha siu bao (roast pork buns) is also a classic chinese bakery item. You can get these at any of the 3 mentioned so far. There are also Muk Sai Go Bao (Mexico buns; nothing to do with Mexico either) - minced meat inside.
Boston doesn't really do these well, but I am a big fan of Lo Po Bang, which is a sweet, melon-y center (not liquid, more solid, but not hard) covered in a very flaky, phylo-like crust. These are easy to transport and can be served as is. I'd try Mei Sums, though available elsewhere.
I also like Boot Jai Go, a coconut gelatin-like pudding in a small silver dish. I like Mei Sum's (hated Eldo's); you can find them with red beans in them sometimes, but I don't like what the beans do to the texture.
There are a lot more, but for something simpler, I also like chaan bao (dinner rolls). Plain, small, slightly sweet. Great at Mei Sum, Eldo and others.
Nice of you to do this. Several have recommended Eldo (on Harrison just north of beach) and I like it alot (had my breakfast form there this morning). I would also recommend Mei Sum (on beach between Washingon and Harrison). A third possibility that is a little more upscale but not pricier is Bao Bao( on Harrison between Beach and Kneeland). It has a greater diversity of items and has a little Taiwanese influence. They all open around 7AM and while their English isn't strong, it's OK and they're are very helpful. For the savory items, i like the BBQ pork buns and the curry beef turnovers. They don;t travel as well without reheating. I agree with previous posters on the sweet items.
We like the Eldo Bakery on Harrison St. Do a search on this board for more info. I like Eldo's because there is a candy store on the other side of the bakery. My 8 year old loves picking out candies, here. His favorites are the little red plastic firecrackers with chocolate inside and the gummie candies whose wrappings are written in Chinese. It's eas to ring up quite a bill at the candy store, just so you know.
At the bakery end, I like the cream buns and sesame balls. We tend to go on weekends when teens work the counter, so language has never been a barrier.
Have fun. It's really neat to just point at something that looks good. If you're concerned about communicating, bring a picture of your class and use it to say you want goodies for them.
i like the one next that is connected to Aji Ichinban (the japanese candy store)...it's on the same street as Apollo. Just get onto Stuart and go past RocK Bottom towards Chinatown and take a left when you see Apollo.
This place is somewhat dumpy with old men drinking tea and what not.
I usually get the sweets...i'll try my best to write them down phonetically:
Egg custard tart = Daan Taat or Dahn Taht = they make it with a really flakey crust
Pineapple crusted bread = Bolo Bau or Bohloh Bau = it kinda tastes like hollah with a crispy sweet pineapple crust on the top
and my favorite...
Coconut paste roll (looks like a hot dog or sub roll but it has coconut stuff inside) = Gai Mei Bau
take note that most of the stuff is behind the counter and you won't be able to see a lot of them until you ask them for it. if this place creeps you out or you're not comfortable walking in there then i suggest walking around chinatown for other bakeries since chinatown is really small. there are lots but ive been going to that one since ive been here so thats what i know