So… this should really become an ongoing series, since I love wandering around Chinatown, and since I have such a terrible memory, it’s practically a new adventure/experience every time. You know what they say about Asians lacking any sense of direction? Well, that’s totally me. I am ridiculously good at getting lost, so you can pretty much count on it that if I’m walking through Chinatown in search of one particular place, I won’t be able to find it but I’ll discover two new awesome places instead. (And of course not be able to find *those* next time I go back.)
Normally my visits to Chinatown with groups of any size are punctuated and/or scheduled around a session of pure gluttony at the Imperial/ Emperor Garden Dim Sum Restaurant. I was on my own today though, so dim sum was not quite in the cards for me. I actually managed to successfully locate 163 Vietnamese Sandwiches & Bubble Tea (WOW, that’s a long name for a restaurant) which was where I wanted to eat lunch, so points to me on that. I’d never actually been in it before but it came highly recommended by friends who’d been there before, so I figured I should stop in. Plus I love sandwiches, and it seemed a good way to take the edge off my hunger while I figured out what to do next. I ordered the curry chicken sandwich, which was phenomenal. The place is so cute; there’s literally only three small tables in there and since two couples before me had already sat down and there was a crate of bread loaves (?!?!) at the last table, I just took my sandwich outside and started walking. It was actually great walking around in the cold carrying this nice warm tasty sandwich.
So after I was done wandering aimlessly while eating my sandwich, I found myself down by the Chinatown gate which was unexpectedly taken over by an outdoor market! I don’t think this is a normal occurrence; in fact I’m pretty sure that it was because the Chinese New Year is this week (Feb 3rd!) because I saw a lot of good-luck ingots and charms, and flowers and fruits that I think are typically associated with the new year and prosperity and luck and whatnot.
Since I couldn’t be bothered to get any flowers, reeds, lanterns or good luck ingots, I bought a pretty lotus charm, and then it was time to hit my favorite bakery, which is pretty much right next to the gates: Hing Shing Pastry. Now, I couldn’t tell you why exactly this place is my favorite, since I pretty much only get egg tarts and curry pies, which you can get at pretty much any bakery in Chinatown. But it’s my favorite, so there you go. The place is always packed and chaotic, but it just adds to the allure. Today was rough though – they were out of the beef curry pies! Woe is me. So I just grabbed some egg tarts and a sesame bun and went off on my merry way.
About a half a block up the street (maybe less, these streets are not big) is Ho Yuen Bakery which is also quite fantastic. Also quite crowded there. They actually DID have the curry beef pies, so I did a little happy dance (in my head, of course) and joined the mob inside that store. Walked out with my two curry beef pies, and some more egg tarts (for comparison, of course. Not because I’m at all a glutton. Nope.) and also one glutinous rice cake, which I *think* has nuts inside, but I’m not sure. I know it was covered in shaved coconut though.
Next on my list of places I wanted to go was May’s Cake House, and only because I had had a fresh (like, still hot to the touch) BBQ pork bun from them last time I was in Chinatown, on my way to my birthday dinner, and it was like the perfect thing for the dreary cold walk to the restaurant. Of course, here’s where my sense of direction (or lack thereof) kicks in. I remembered it being a bit off of the main drag of Chinatown, but wasn’t exactly sure of the location. I wandered up and down the side streets, got pretty thoroughly turned around, and… no luck. I didn’t want to go too far off the beaten path because I wanted to make sure I could still find my way back to the subway station, so I ultimately gave up. (side note: I looked at a map when I got back to my computer, and it turns out I was on the right street … just about two blocks north of where I needed to be. Oops.)
At this point I wasn’t sure where in Chinatown I even was, so after I turned back and walked about a block I found myself at this charming place called The Juice Bar which had lovely pictures of boba teas in the window, and also, joy of all joys! They had a picture of marinated tea eggs! I have loved those since a child, as it was one of the few things my mom actually enjoyed cooking, and she would always make like two dozen at a time, so I’d get to eat marinated tea eggs for like a week or two (depending on how many the rest of my family ate) and… yeah. So I got myself an almond milk tea and two tea eggs (to go) from this adorable little shop, and despite my disappointment at not finding May’s Cake House, I felt like this place totally made up for it.
Then as I was blundering my way (or attempting to, at any rate) back towards the subway, I walked past Eldo Cake House (it’s like two doors down from The Juice Bar) and I figured: well, why not? The place is very adorable and neat, and looks to take more pride in their sweets and “french-style” pastries, but there is a menu on the wall (tough to puzzle out), Not seeing them on display, I asked the nice lady behind the counter if they had any bbq pork buns, to which I got an affirmative answer, so of course I had to buy one. It surprised me when I received it; I’m used to my bbq pork buns being steamed and not baked, so I almost asked what was going on when I received a smooth, golden-brown bun instead of the customary soft and fluffy white bun. I wasn’t overly concerned because really, any meat-filled bun is awesome in my book, so I paid my ridiculously low fee for said bun and finally decided that I had spent enough of my money on junk food and should head back.
So, tasting analysis: the tea egg was absolutely exactly as I remember it being from my childhood, which is to say: AWESOME! It’s a hard-boiled egg, which I already rank high on my list of things that I think are great. But then it’s got that hit of tea flavor, and the aroma… Oh man, the aroma. It’s heaven.
The pork bun was fantastic. The filling is the standard sweet bbq pork, and the slight caramelization on the bun actually added a depth of sweetness and texture that really highlighted the pork. I still love my big steamed pork buns, but it’s good to know that this is a really great fallback when I get lost and/or otherwise fall victim to my own self.
Egg tarts… well, they’re always great, and the custard filling from both places was virtually identical. Hing Shing’s crust was flakier, while Ho Yuen’s crust is more like a typical pie crust. Both good in their own way, and a really great ratio of crust to custard. (I’ve had some in California that were like ALL crust and no custard, and like what’s the point of that? Ugh.)
Haven’t gotten to the curry beef pies yet, as I’m really full now! But I can tell that the puff pastry crust is flaky and crispy and awesome just by poking at it. I can’t wait to make some room in my belly and chow down!
Man… I love wandering around stuffing my face full of food. What more could a girl ask for? =)