Tai Cheong – A Hong Kong Dan Ta (Egg Custard) Institution That Lives Up To Its Reputation
**For full post and pics**: http://www.lauhound.com/2012/09/tai-c...
Tai Cheong is a very famous bakery in Central District, Hong Kong. They’re well known for all of their pastries, but they are particularly famous for their dan ta, which are Chinese egg custard tarts. I’ve been coming to Tai Cheong for over a decade, but I haven’t been in my last two trips to Hong Kong. Back in the day Tai Cheong was a rundown bakery with lines out the door; fast forward to today and it’s been bought by a publicly traded company (Tao Heung Group), expanded to have branches all over Hong Kong and totally renovated so it’s very nice inside now. What does that sound like to me? It sounds like a recipe for a massive decline in quality. However, I had to give it a try to see if that was actually the case or not.
Here’s what we got:
- Dan Ta: Drum roll…so how was the dan ta? Thankfully the answer is that they are as good as ever. They are definitely one of the best if not the best I’ve ever had. The flavor is amazing; the custard is very egg-y tasting and not as sweet as most versions, which I like better. I got mine hot out of the oven, so it was really soft and delicious. The crust is great as well; it’s not overly buttery or oily like many are and it’s also more solid as opposed to flaky, which is different than most places. Even though I normally prefer the Portuguese style ones where it’s burnt on top (normally get them from Lord Stow’s) (http://www.lauhound.com/2010/10/lord-...) these are definitely of my favorite versions anywhere. 9.25/10
- Chicken Pie: This is another pastry Tai Cheong is famous for. It’s a buttery thick pie crust filled with chicken, mushroom, peas and maybe a couple other vegetables in a thick semi-creamy sauce. It will remind you of a much less soup-y version of chicken pot pie. The crust is pretty moist and a bit salty. The inside tastes just like it sounds. I’m not the biggest fan of these in general, but it’d been a long time I’d had one and Tai Cheong’s version was better than most. 7.75/10
Overall, while it turned into a chain and the bakery got a lot nicer, the dan ta still taste exactly like I remember them and I highly recommend giving them a try if you’re in Hong Kong.
I was back there last Dec - the egg tarts seemed to have become more buttery and the short-crust pastry more crumbly than I remembered.
The best egg-tarts I'd ever had in Hong Kong was from a traditional Chinese bakery in Tsimshatsui (off Nathan Road) - can't remember its name at the moment. The tarts were so good that I once bought a box and took it on a flight back to Singapore. 8 hours later, I opened the box and the aroma from the egg tarts filled the whole kitchen.
Best egg tarts in Singapore at the moment, IMO, are from Taste Paradise, ION Orchard.
I note that both you and klyeoh refer to the "buttery" nature of the dan tat offerings you both consider the better/best ones, both here and elsewhere. That is, actual butter (a dairy product not used much, if at all, in traditional Chinese cuisine) is used in making them (the crusts, one supposes). It's interesting, that preference - especially as it is said that dan tat is of English derivation, introduced in the 1940s...and I note that Hong Kong and Singapore were probably more "Anglicized" than almost any other place in E/SE Asia. :-)
It's true - we love our butter here in Singapore & Hong Kong. The Hainanese places in Singapore invariably also offer chicken a la king (with butter, milk to make the roux for the white sauce) or beef stroganoff (with sour cream added). Most of the young Chinese kids in Singapore these days *love* their milk, butter and cheese - by that, I don't mean those plasticky individually-wrapped Kraft cheeses of our childhood, they go for strong cheeses these days. My nephews (3 years old to 14 years old) adore blue cheeses, even very strong-smelling ones like the Livarot. Singapore supermarkets, including smaller, neighborhood ones, stock a wide variety of mature cheeses these day - I guess our tastes have evolved thru the years.
actually i mentioned that the crust at Tai Cheong is actually less buttery and oily than most versions. That said the portguese kind that i normally like happen to usually be fairly buttery and as the wiki article says i thought they used lard not butter? most of those chinese bakeries use lard for everything i thought.
hong kong people do like butter though, check my post on kam fung, its very popular to eat the pineapple buns with a cold slab of butter
i also believe that dan ta are likely from europe and got transported hong kong and then were suited toward local tastes as the wiki article says is the theory...it just doesn't seem to fit in with traditional chinese desserts, which is why i believe its likely a portguese invention (or maybe a british one)
I don't know how entirely accurate wikipedia is with regards to the entry on HK style egg tart (even the Chinese page). But I've encountered very thoroughly researched articles by local Hong Kong students about the subject of Hong Kong food culture history (history of dim sum, dai pai dong, and one about egg tarts with literary references cited), that suggest egg tarts were introduced as gimmicks to lure shoppers into department stores, sometime between 1920s to 1940s and if my memory is not playing tricks, this could have even been in Guangzhou (after all that is where Tai Ping Koon was rooted before moving to Hong Kong).
Tai Cheong was indeed the first buttery cookie crust egg tart that solved the problem of reheating an egg tart while keeping crust integrity and flavor (much of which is usually lost with the flakey puff pastry crust once allowed to cool and reheated, but this was way before toaster ovens). Back in the 80s, Lucillus/"Lukalus", St Honore's/St Anna's (whatever it was called), and many lesser known bakeries did some great cookie crust egg tarts, a few of which were even oblong shaped.
re: K K
yah i don't find that cookie crust too often, but i liked it i thought it was good
when i was a kid i only had the puff pastry one, so i think Tai Cheong might've been the first or one of the first times i'd ever had the cookie crust, this was probably like 12 years ago when i first started going to HK alot