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"Old Man Cakes" (Lao Gong Bing) at Wonder Food Bakery, Oakland Chinatown

Just wanted to report that Wonder Food Bakery is one of my new go-to spots in Oakland Chinatown, especially for their Lao Gong Bing ("old man cakes" or "husband cakes"). This is an item I hadn't heard of and haven't seen elsewhere, though I've since heard that a couple other places in Chinatown, including Napoleon Bakery, make not-as-good versions.

These are a variation on "Lao Po Bing" (which I've seen translated as "wife cakes" or "sweetheart cakes"), a sweet, round-shaped pastry that's traditionally filled with a winter melon-almond paste. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweethea...

The "male" version, "Lao Gong Bing" -- at least at Wonder Food -- is filled with a savory-sweet paste that's made from BBQ roast pork and has some small chunks of nut (walnut?) in it too. Very tasty, and the pastry itself is nice and flaky, topped with a scattering of sesame seeds. Best of all, these are a steal, priced at just $1.35 for FIVE. (That's $0.27 each if you do the math -- don't know if they charge a higher rate if you only want to buy one or two.) They're smallish pastries, maybe two inches in diameter, but one or two of them make a great snack or breakfast. Look for them in a separate case on top of the main display case.

Wonder Food sells mini wife cakes (no black sesame seeds on these) for the same price, and they also have a larger, more traditionally-sized "lao po bing." I haven't tried either of those.

I didn't see too many threads about this place (here's the one helpful thread I did find: http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/541385), and since the shop is kind of hidden away on a non-busy corner of Webster and 9th (across from the cultural center), I'd never noticed it before. Maybe a tough shop for a non Chinese speaker/reader to navigate, since some (most?) of the items are only labeled in Chinese, and several other items are kept in back and aren't visible in the display case.

Haven't had a chance to work through too many of their offerings yet, but today I bought five "old man cakes", two egg custard tarts, a pineapple bun with custard filling, and a pork song ("rou song" -- that furry brown stuff) bun -- all for a grand total of $4.20.

The egg tarts were $0.60 each, 10 cents more expensive than Ruby King (my go-to place for egg tarts in Oakland) and not quite as good. Perfectly respectable, though, with a flaky crust.

The pineapple bun was well above average -- especially the checkered "pineapple" topping part (which looks like a pineapple but has no pineapple in it, for those who don't know), in large part because the bun was pretty fresh (still slightly warm when I bought it). Better than Napoleon's.

The pork song bun will be my breakfast tomorrow.

Any other items people like here? Anyone seen and tried the "lao gong bing" at other bakeries?

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Ruby King Bakery Cafe
718 Franklin St, Oakland, CA 94607

Napoleon Super Bakery
810 Franklin St, Oakland, CA

Wonder Food Bakery
340 9th St, Oakland, CA

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  1. My heavens, abstractpoet, what an extraordinary find. Flaky crust, meaty, sweet filling with a nutty crunch, and $1.30 out-of-pocket for five lao gong bing, circular, about 3 inches each in diameter. Sprinkled with black sesame seeds on top for an appealing presentation (I'm bringing these to Thanksgiving dinner), delicious, and a real bargain.

    Note: you need to flag the attention of one of the young women working the counter and ask for them, as they are not displayed prominently, at least when I was there.

    1. I tried this from wonder and Napoleon today. Indeed the wonder version is better. The ingredient taste fits together in a more harmonic way.

      $0.30 if you buy one. So it's also cheap.

      1. came across the original and lst wonder bakery in s.f. turkey day. it's now called blossom bakery in waverly place. a really large "lao po ping" was .75 cents. the quality wasn't there.
        crust was flaky but the melon taste was diluted, probably by the addition of flour. the black sesame seeds were present. egg custards at .65 cents similiarly didn't taste authentic.(thick shells, custard flavor bland.

        hate paying for parking in oaktown. will walk over to wonder someday to try out their versions. l

        2 Replies
        1. re: shanghaikid

          Note that this Blossom Bakery is completely unrelated to the Oakland Chinatown Wonder Bakery that everyone else in this thread is discussing.

          Why do you say that the SF Wonder Bakery was the "original"? I'm not sure they ever had anything to do with each other.

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          Blossom Bakery
          133 Waverly Pl, San Francisco, CA

          1. re: abstractpoet

            Paul Wong opened wonder bakery on waverly place decades ago. a 2nd opened on clement st (now alex) , the 3rd is the wonder in oaktown which kept it's original name and seemingly it's original recipe.

        2. I stopped by Wonder Food Bakery yesterday and picked up a durian puff pastry for $1.25 or so. It's about 3' in diameter, tastes like a ripe, runny brie with notes of stinky tofu and is not nearly as flaky as the "old man cakes." It comes in its own individual resealable cellophane bag labelled 'Wonder Food Bakery" and lists its address on 9th Street as well as a nearby address at 725 Webster in Oakland which just happens to be the location of Kam Land Bakery. A post early last year on another site suggests that Kam Land is a branch of Wonder.

          1. 老公饼: Lao Gong Bing
            What's in it: Fermented Red Bean Curd, Peanuts, Sesame, Five Star Anise, Butter, Salt

            3 Replies
            1. re: wolfe

              Is that a generic recipe, or is that specifically what the people at Wonder Food Bakery say they use? There's definitely meat in theirs.

              1. re: abstractpoet

                Here's where I got it and I am not sure I detected any meat..
                http://www.lifeofguangzhou.com/node_1...

                1. re: abstractpoet

                  There are few set recipes for anything when it comes to Chinese food. I agree that there is meat in the one we get locally. But if the recipe wolfe found is from China then it may have other ideas on what is the recipes.

              2. I went to Oakland Chinatown today and thought I should try these, but I couldn't remember exactly where Wonder is located. As I don't walk well, I decided to go in Sum Yee Bakery on Webster instead (as it happens, very close to Wonder). I don't speak any form of Chinese, and the Roman transliteration seems not to be much help, but the woman of the couple behind the counter figured out I wanted "husband takes a wife" cakes. I don't know if that is the same thing or not, but these were round, filled pastries 3 and 5/8" diameter, filled with a sweet bean paste ( definitely not pork) and with no sesame seeds on top. Pretty good, but I don't think it's worth a special trip. Then again, Chinese pastries are not my main interest.

                Next time I'll get to Wonder for a comparison. The larger Sum Yee version was 75 cents each.

                2 Replies
                1. re: GH1618

                  What you got sounds like either "lao po bing" (wife cakes -- see my original post) or "xi bing" (wedding cakes) -- one or the other of which (maybe someone else can better explain the tradition?) is sometimes given away as gifts by a couple after they've announced their engagement. These are really common -- you'll find them in most of the bakeries in Chinatown.

                  The "lao gong bing" ("husband cakes") are a similar size and shape, but the filling is totally different. (It's a long "o" on the "gong" if you're trying to ask for it in the store.)

                  1. re: abstractpoet

                    They were definitely "husband" cakes and not "wife" cakes according to the picture and descriptions above, although not like the ones with pork, but like the traditional recipe posted by wolfe.

                    It's the "bing" that is difficult. Is that transliteration for Cantonese?

                2. Today I went to Wonder Bakery in Oakland to get the pastry described in the original post, a smal (2.5" dia) filled pastry with black seeds on top. Wonder is, indeed a wonderful bakery, with all sorts of pastries with various fillings. The ones in question were on top of the display case out of view, not displayed alongside the others, so I had to ask for them.

                  These pastries do not contain pork, except for the lard likely used in the crust. The filling is sweet red bean paste, with something in it which gives a little crunch. A nice enough little snack, but I don't see it being exceptional compared to the other things on display.

                  Compared to the more traditional (as described by others above) version from Sum Yee, I prefer the Sum Yee. But they are different, not two versions of exactly the same thing. It's a matter of preference. I like the larger pastry from Sum Yee with the more delicate crust, and I am not that keen on the sesame seeds on the Wonder pastry.

                  Suffice it to say there are many excellant Chinese pastries to be found in Oakland's Chinatown, from more than one bakery. But if you go to some trouble to make a special trip to try these yourself, get some Shan Dong dumplings while you're at it.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: GH1618

                    Huh. There should definitely be bits of roast pork (char siu) in the filling, and the paste itself has the same flavor profile as the filling in a traditional roast pork bun. It's that sweet-and-savory dimension that makes it a unique little snack. I don't know if red bean is used or not. Next time I'll try asking the ladies behind the counter what the ingredients are exactly.

                    In any case, I'm not familiar with the traditional version, if there is one -- like I said, this is the first I'd heard of such a thing -- so I'll need to check out Sum Yee or some of the other bakeries for comparison's sake.

                  2. By "traditional" I am merely going by the description posted by Wolfe and the fact that it matches the thing produced by Sum Yee exactly. I don't claim to be an expert in Chinese or Cantonese traditions, but I have been eating and cooking Chinese food a long time and am quite familiar with char siu bao.

                    I had better try another one right now!

                    Hmmm. I admit I don't know what is in it, but it's nothing like the filling in barbecued pork buns.

                    1. Here's another opinion: My wife thinks there's meat in it. Maybe so, but when I want pork I'll go for the steamed pork bun. Then there's no doubt.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: GH1618

                        Yeah -- well, you're absolutely right that people shouldn't buy this pastry expecting a something like a pork bun! There's only a very small amount of meat, and it's mostly the flavoring that strongly evokes (at least to me) char siu bao.