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Ka Wah – My Favorite Bakery in Chinatown

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  • Lau Dec 7, 2010 06:39 PM
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**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2010/12/ka-wa...

Chinatown is chock full of bakeries. Most of the bakeries fall into two categories they are either a) old school style cha chaan teng (茶餐廳, cha can ting, literally “tea restaurant”) that serve various old school Cantonese buns and pastries or b) more modern bakeries that have all types of pastries, buns and crazy cakes shaped into cartoon characters. For example, Mei Li Wah would fall under the cha chaan teng category and Fay Da / Tai Pan would fall under the latter category. Generally, the quality can vary from pretty decent to just okay. It is sort of hard to tell which ones will be good and which ones will just so so because they really all look very similar.

Ka Wah is a throwback and is closer to being in the cha chaan teng category. It is an old school Cantonese bakery that is in the eastern part of Chinatown jammed in the middle of a completely Fujian neighborhood. Based on that fact and the décor, I think this bakery must be very old. It’s run by 3 old Cantonese ladies, who are pretty old school themselves. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding their Mandarin because they have such a thick Cantonese accent.

Unlike most bakeries in Chinatown, this place only serves maybe 8-10 different types of pastries and maybe 4-5 different types of buns. All of it is Cantonese classics: dan ta (egg custard), dan gao (sponge cake), lao po bing (wife cake, a pastry filled with a sweet winter melon filling), almond cookies, ji wei bao (cocktail bun), bo luo bao (pineapple bun) and a few other things. They also serve good yin yang cha (yuan yang cha, coffee and tea mixed with evaporated milk and sugar), nai cha (tea with condensed milk) and coffee.

I come here on the weekends usually fairly early around 10:30am-11am when the pastries are fresh (they taste better in the morning when they are fresher).

Here are some of the things I get:
- Sponge Cake (Dan Gao): This place probably has the best sponge cake I’ve had in Chinatown. The cake is very light and airy with a great egg-y flavor and it’s soft as a pillow. I really like these and they are so light you can eat them like they were nothing and they go great with some yin yang cha. As a word of advice these in particular taste much better in the morning when they are fresh. 4.5/5
- Wife Cake (Lao Po Bing): They make a good version here. The crust is nice and flaky and the inside is flavorful and not overly sweet. However, this is an old school type of pastry and it’s very Chinese, so I’m not sure everyone will like this. My GF thinks that its “old people food” and she doesn’t like it at all. She also says I like “old people food” when it comes to desserts, so this is the type of thing I like, but I’m sure there will be a decent amount of people who do not. 4/5
- Egg Custard (Dan Ta): Hands down the best dan ta in Chinatown. The crust is flaky, crispy and buttery without being overly buttery. The custard is nice and egg-y and not overly sweet. They sell both the small versions and large version. I prefer the small version as I like the ratio of custard to crust better. These are great. 4.25/5
- Coconut Tart: I always forget what this is called in Chinese. I’m not totally sure why I always end getting these because I don’t love them and it’s not the version here just in general. I guess it’s a nostalgia thing because I grew up eating stuff like this. Anyhow, the version here is good. 3.75/5
- Drinks: I forgot to take pictures, but these guys make some of the best yin yang cha (yuan yang cha, coffee and tea mixed with evaporated milk and sugar) and nai cha (tea with condensed milk) in Chinatown. I always get a cup of it when I come here. 4.25/5

Overall, this place is great and I highly recommend coming here before they decide to retire or something. It is also ridiculously cheap. Highly recommend.

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Ka Wah Bakery
9 Eldridge St, New York, NY 10002

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  1. Thanks for the recommendations and the Chinese lesson. I know the names of many foods in Cantonese and some in Mandarin. But i always say "egg custard" ,,, so Dan Ta will surely come in handy for me. I did have some exellent Dan Ta and also a white variety (coconut) that was amazingly good at QQ bakery on East Bway. It is also intersting that cha chaan teng means "tea" restaurant, because when I first began eating dim sum in NYC Chinatown, the first restaurant that had it was called Nam Wah Bakery, and they called it "tea lunch",, and I've always called dim sum "tea lunch" and still do. So at least it makes sense to me now. By the way i had a bao and i dont know the name of it but it was delicious. I got it at Golden Carriage I think, it had everything in it, pork, egg, chicken, chinese sausage, it was amazingly good. I wish I remembered the name so I can order it again. it kind of reminded me of lo may gai in a bao, Anyway, thanks for the Ka Wah rec. I agree that these foods are better and fresher in the morning, except for Cha siu bao at mei lee wah, they bake all night, but i dont like their Cha siu bah, too much dough for me and not enough pork and i like my pork sweeter and with onions.

    3 Replies
    1. re: foodwhisperer

      dim sum (dian xin) is also known as yum cha (yin cha) which literally means drink tea, so tea lunch isn't all that far off. Actually yum cha is the more accurate term b/c it refers the whole dining experience where as dim sum actually only refers to the appetizers themselves

      i know which coconut ones you're talking about and i've actually had them at QQ, but i'm sort of old school when it comes to chinese desserts, so i prefer the original flavor (btw QQ sort of means like fresh in taiwan, but i think it might be a hokkien phrase b/c they say it sometimes in singapore and singapore hokkien is very closely related to taiwan hokkien....anyhow if you go to taiwan you'll see QQ everywhere when you go to food stalls and small restaurants and if you ever watch one of those taiwanese shows where they go to the best food stalls and restaurants, they say QQ all the time)

      btw i think you're talking about nom wah on doyers? it's still there, i've never been though, i heard its more for nostalgia than good food (i think its the oldest restaurant in chinatown)

      i believe the bao you are referring to is a dai bao (da bao 大包 literally big bun) it usually have chicken, egg, chinese sausage and maybe one other thing. Mei Li Wah makes the best ones (its quite big btw, bigger than their cha siu bao).

      i'm the opposite i normally, don't like the sweet kind of filling in cha siu bao....i prefer MLW's to the others although they should put a little more filling in theirs, i agree with that

      1. re: Lau

        Thanks Lau for the info,,btw my good friend is from Taiwan, maybe that's why she picked QQ to go in and buy bread . Nam Wah used to be one of the few places to get dum sum and only on sunday. The food is not good though. Hey they closed Chatham, the original spot was a friends uncle ,and i liked it alot. Hop shing maybe,,i forget,, anyway it is really closed now.

        1. re: foodwhisperer

          chatham was pretty decent for certain things although they were better when they were hop shing, this was when i was in college, they got a little worse when they changed names to chatham and then they closed unfortunately

    2. Thanks for the review, and I enjoyed the photos on your blog. There's a place on the corner of Forsyth and Grand (or is it Hester? it's right next to Sara Delano Roosevelt Park), formerly called Egg Custard King, where I've enjoyed the dan ta in 3 flavors. Have you found them any good? (OK, now I'm confused: There seems to still be an Egg Custard King at 157 Hester St., but I remember a remodeling and name change.)

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      Egg Custard King
      157 Hester St, New York, NY 10013

      7 Replies
      1. re: Pan

        yah it used to be called egg custard king (dan ta wang), it still is called that in chinese, but now the english name is natalie bakery. i was never that enthralled with their dan ta, but they originally had the portugese kind where they burn the tops a little bit, so i used to go there b/c that is my favorite type of dan ta, they have other flavors, but i don't really like them

        it has also gotten worse in quality since when they first opened

        ka wah is way better

        1. re: Pan

          The bakery at Forsyth and Grand is now Natalie, as Lau notes. The newer Hester Street shop, connected with Hong Kong Supermarket, is apparently associated with the Egg Custard King folks (whose other location is in Sunset Park, Brooklyn) ... http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/7432...

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          Natalie Bakery
          271 Grand St, New York, NY 10002

          1. re: squid kun

            is natalie bakery good

            1. re: AubWah

              It's OK but I liked Egg Custard King better.

              -----
              Egg Custard King
              157 Hester St, New York, NY 10013

              1. re: Chandavkl

                yah its just so so, nothing to go out of your way to try

            2. re: squid kun

              How is the Hester St. shop? I haven't tried it.

              1. re: Pan

                I haven't either. Just ducked in and grabbed a menu.

          2. This place is legendary it has been frequented by many many peoples dai lo over the years. They have the best drinks on this continent south of Vancouver and Toronto

            4 Replies
            1. re: AubWah

              haha legendary is a big word, but it is very good

              you know what dai lo usually refers to right? its usually referring to a gangster, it means big man basically like you're a big shot

              1. re: Lau

                yes thanks for clarifying Lau i know what it means because i am obsessed with certain Hong Kong movies from the 80's and 90's. Great to find that atmosphere at this bakery

                1. re: Lau

                  Lau, what brand tea bag should be in my yin yang cha?

                  1. re: AubWah

                    hmm that's a good question, i don't really pay attention to it...ive only really only paid attention to how it tastes. some places simply use lipton tea bags although i dont remember what they use at ka wah

              2. Thanks for the tip, Lau. Always looking for a good bakery in Chinatown, and egg custard in particular!

                1. Having dinner tomorrow night at Cantoon Garden and the friends I'm going with want to find a place to buy a bun filled with pastry cream. What they are describing to me sounds like a cha siu bao, but with a sweet pastry cream filling. Do you know if there is such a thing? Do you know what it's called? Do you have any idea where we might find it? preferably not too far from where we'll be having dinner (since it's supposed to be bitterly cold out).

                  27 Replies
                  1. re: JoanN

                    A baked bao with a sweet filling is fairly common in Chinatown. I think they're aptly identified in the bakery. You'd need to find a more modern bakery as opposed to a older traditional bakery. I'm guessing Hon Cafe, a block over from South China Garden on Mott St. might carry these.

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                    South China Garden
                    22 Elizabeth St, New York, NY 10013

                    1. re: Chandavkl

                      are you talking about a bun with a custard in the middle? if so they are called lai wong bao in cantonese and nai huang bao in mandarin (literally means milk yellow bun, but the yellow part is referring to egg yolk, so milk yolk bao). most of the dim sum places serve it, but im not sure where to get a good one in ctown as i havent had a good one in ctown

                      here's a pic: http://spiltmartini.com/2009/01/11/%E...

                      1. re: Lau

                        Something I've seen in California and Hong Kong is called the Mexico bun. It's like a baked bao with a sweet cream/custard filling, but has a covering on the top that looks like the surface of Mexican sweet bread. Not sure if anybody does that in New York.

                        1. re: Chandavkl

                          yah they have those here, they are a bo lo bao (pineapple bun) with a custard filling although i dont remember them being called a mexico bun haha thats kind of a funny name for it

                          1. re: Lau

                            Well, it's not quite the same. The bo lo bao have a top that is craggy (i.e., looks like a pineapple) and yellow. The Mexico bun is white and smooth. I think it's called a Mexico bun because of the resemblance to the smooth surface of Mexican sweetbread, which looks like it might be hard icing, but in fact is just baked on, like the pineapple bun top is.

                            1. re: Lau

                              Hon Cafe, I believe, has Mexico buns and pineapple buns with custard. They are definitely different.

                              1. re: Lau

                                Haha, pineapple bun sounds less funny?

                                I went to Ka Wah, the roast pork bun is pretty good/distinct compared to the other Chinatown bakeries, a little reminiscent of Mei Lah Wah, though a little drier. And the dan ta is pretty good, ain't something I usually get, but wanted to try your recommendation.

                                1. re: villainx

                                  well pineapple bun is sort of weird too, but there is a reason for it, its b/c the outside of it sort of looks like a pineapple

                                  i'd be very curious why this is called a mexico bun

                                  whoa you actually got a roast pork bun? they never have it when i go, i think ive tried to get it like 5-6 times and they never have it, they always have this chicken bun though, its pretty good

                                  1. re: Lau

                                    I think they're called Mexico buns because they have a sweet crunchy topping like the conchas found in Mexican bakeries.

                                    Google images link:

                                    http://www.google.com/images?hl=en&am...

                                    1. re: Humbucker

                                      yah i figured that might be the case if it was invented here, but if it was invented in Asia i figured that might be unlikely that was the reason

                                      btw i really love those, i always hit the Mexican bakeries when I'm home to get those fresh

                              2. re: Chandavkl

                                Dynasty Supermarket caries Mexican buns.

                                1. re: scoopG

                                  interesting, maybe ive never had one then....is it called a mexico bun in chinese as well?

                                  1. re: Lau

                                    Yes - look for them in bakery section!

                              3. re: Lau

                                My friends and I stopped into two Canal Street bakeries last evening on the way to the restaurant. In both bakeries the buns were indeed called Custard Buns. But instead of the white, fluffy dough my friend described and as shown in the photo Lau posted, they were more like regular baked buns with the sweet, crunchy topping on top that Chandavki describes. There was another bun called a pineapple bun, but we didn’t try one of those. I asked, in both stores, if I could take pictures of the signs in front of the buns so someone could tell me what they said in Chinese, but neither store would allow that. So my friend bought one custard bun and we took a photo of it outside the shop:

                                My friend seemed pleased enough with it. I thought the proportion of bun to filling could have been more in favor of the filling. And the texture of the filling was more akin to a mediocre cheese Danish than a good Italian custard. Don’t think I’ll be going on a custard bun crawl anytime soon. But now I am curious about the Mexico bun.

                                 
                                1. re: JoanN

                                  thats exactly what a pineapple bun looks like except normally the dough is a little more fluffy. that was the custard bun i was talking about earlier where it is a pineapple bun with custard in the middle.

                                  fyi, the quality on these types of buns can vary considerably depending on who is baking them

                                  1. re: Lau

                                    In buns as in life, eh?

                                    I'm just not that big a fan of pastry in general to be eager to pursue an ultimate (or even really good) version. But I will check out the egg custard tarts at Ka Wah next time I'm in the nabe just because you've made them sound so wonderful.

                                    1. re: JoanN

                                      haha

                                      yah check out ka wah if you're in ctown, as i said i recommend going on the earlier side, its much better if its fresher

                                  2. re: JoanN

                                    Take pictures first, get permission denial later. Especially if you aren't using a flash.

                                    1. re: villainx

                                      Ha! Actually, I didn't ask in the first store. Someone was standing right there and started yelling the minute the very small point-and-shoot came out of my purse.

                                      1. re: JoanN

                                        Fay Da usually has beautiful custard-filled buns in their steamed bun cabinet; dough quality depends on how long they've been in there. But all the Fay Das I've ever been to do a brisk business, so they're usually pretty fresh. I used to spend a lot of time chilling in Fay Da until they started blasting Z100... but still stop in as often as possible for their treats. They are on the fancier end of Ctown bakeries, but have most of the standards.

                                        If only they'd bring back their HK milk tea.

                                        Looking forward to trying Ka wah. Maybe it will fill the void in my heart once occupied by Maria's.

                                        1. re: daiquiri ice

                                          I haven't thought about Maria's in a long time. I'm not sure I miss the bakery tho, just the right side of the store that served the club sandwich and the weird combo of fried chicken pieces over spaghetti.

                                          1. re: SomeRandomIdiot

                                            I guess what I really miss about Maria's is the smoking section. And the elephant ears.
                                            Sigh.

                                  3. re: Lau

                                    I've had a good lai wong bao at Guangzhou in Flushing but they haven't had it the last few times I've been out there. I think Flushing is probably your best bet.

                                    1. re: kathryn

                                      oh yah they do have a decent version there

                                2. re: JoanN

                                  i know this is the wrong borough, but if you make it out to Flushing, go to Carnation Bakery; they have the best versions of so many of these things: pineapple bun, mexico bun, and also some unique ones, like the one custard bun topped with puff pastry. crazy stuff.

                                  http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/733839

                                  1. re: bigjeff

                                    interesting a place ive never heard of, i will def try

                                    1. re: bigjeff

                                      Carnation Bakery is a bit of a walk from the places I usually go to in Flushing, but it sounds like it would be fun to check it out. I think I'll wait for warmer weather, though. Thanks. I've added it to my "Where to Go in Flushing" map.

                                  2. yeah this place is the best. I don't go to any of the commercial places anymore and their coconut tart is really fresh and good. In mandarin: "ye zhi ta".

                                    1 Reply
                                    1. re: bigjeff

                                      ahhh thanks

                                    2. Stopped in briefly yesterday -- you didn't mention that this place is TINY. Barely enough space for a few people browsing! Literally a hole in the wall. There's space for a counter. No seating at all.

                                      Menu & labels for items are written entirely in Chinese (which I unfortunately cannot read). Items looked good and there were two other patrons in there when I stopped by, which was around 5:30pm on a weekday.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: kathryn

                                        oh yah haha sorry, it is really small

                                        5:30pm is like right before they close....when you go i highly suggest going on the earlyside as the everything is alot better when its fresh in the morning (obviously most people have work on the weekdays, so i always go on the weekends)

                                      2. "- Coconut Tart: I always forget what this is called in Chinese."

                                        `````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````````

                                        In Cantonese, it's pronounced "yeh chi taht"

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: klyeoh

                                          thanks....yah i remembered it in mandarin, its ye shi ta