Simple Pleasures: A Chinatown Sweets Edition

Tuesday, December 13, 2011 8comments No tags Permalink 0

A dollar or two still takes you pretty far in Chinatown, especially when it comes to desserts. Dad’s visiting from Hawai’i this week and after yesterday’s lunch of soup dumplings and e-mein we stopped by a few of my favorite sweet spots in the area. We tried a bunch of different desserts, and the total for all barely came out to $5. Even after all these years, Chinatown never ceases to amaze me.

1. Start with a cup of Nai Cha, served at all Chinatown bakeries. This drink is also known as Hong Kong Milk Tea. A seemingly simple concoction (that I’ve haven’t been able to replicate at home!) Black tea, evaporated milk or condensed milk, and sugar.

2. Yao’s Dragon Beard Candy. I first mentioned these pulled sugar treats in Danny’s post to see how this fairytale candy comes together.

3. Bolo Bao translates to Pineapple Bun, and I covet these for the flaky, crumble rich crust that covers the entire top surface. Underneath is traditional Chinese bread – soft, plush and sweet. You can find these at most Chinatown bakeries. Keep in mind there’s no actual pineapple involved, the name just comes from the pineapple-like appearance.

4. Dofu Fa from Fong Inn Too. Fresh sweet tofu scooped from a big metal pot into small containers. Ginger and honey concoction on the side. Pour it over the tofu and spoon up. In the summer I eat this cold from the fridge, and during winter I prefer it warm. Make sure to also get the housemade grass jelly, another traditional dessert.

5. Hong Kong Egg Cakes. Multiple street vendors sell these griddled-to-order cakes. Purists say the best come from the ‘Egg Cake Lady of Mosco Street‘…and the rest are just impostors. But seeing as you can’t get the original anymore (she closed a few years ago) these other vendors are doing a pretty good job. No complaints here – I’m just happy that we can still get 15 pieces for $1.

6. Sponge Cake from Kam Hing Coffee Shop on Baxter Street. I wrote about these on Serious Eats, and these fluffy cakes only get better and better with each visit. Faintly sweet with a skin layer you can peel off – immensely satisfying. And only $.70.

  • K and S
    November 30, -0001

    everything looks so tasty!

  • Ethan Nicholas
    December 13, 2011

    the standard nai cha you get here in the bakeries is made with sugar and cream, which gives it the thickness. if you order hong kong nai cha, which is what i usually opt for when i'm longing for those nights back in causeway bay, it is made with evaporated milk and (if done right) extremely strong steeped tea from the "stocking"to further the variety, you can get teh tarik (pulled tea from malaysia) which is always made with condensed milk or a mixture of condensed and evaporated milk.yeah…i do have a bit of a milk tea obsession! hahaha.oh and with a nice bolo bao…or to be more decadent bolo yau…the perfect teatime snack!

  • Natalie
    December 13, 2011

    Kathy, you definitely covered the best Chinese sweets!! I love bolo bao, hong kong egg cake, and dofu fa… Dragon Beard candy is great too. I will always love portuguese egg tarts (from Macau!) as well, and at dim sum, those mochi rice cakes filled with black sesame and dusted in crushed peanuts/sugar – that's probably my favorite dessert.Apparently the key to making great Nai Cha (according to my Cantonese father) is to boil the tea with empty egg shells – apparently this gives the tea a flavor/strength that is key for good nai cha – don't know if this is just an old wives tale or if it actually works! (though our family does this and it does taste pretty good)

  • anonymous
    December 13, 2011

    Hola!I haven't try any of them, but I definitely will! soon, hopefully. I really like the idea of the Nai Cha and egg cakes and… well, everything :)

  • Ridonkulus
    December 14, 2011

    i tried to find yao's when i was in NYC even asked the other street vendors lining mott street. no one knew what i was talking about. interesting that the egg cakes look like that. when i was in san francisco gai dan jai came off the waffle iron in a giant toasty circle. so good!

  • anonymous
    December 14, 2011

    i like fong inn too, but i find their tofu fa often has an obscenely short shelf life. if it stays in the fridge all day (don't ask how this ever happens), it gets really sour!

  • Kathy YL Chan
    December 15, 2011

    Hi Ethan! You definitely know more about milk tea than I do…so many different types!! Oh man, one mention of Hong Kong and Causeway Bay…and I'm itching for another holiday back there!! Hi Natalie! The tip about boiling with egg shells is so interesting – good to know! I haven't heard of that before…though will save some egg shells for the next time I try to make it at home :)Hola Ana! Ahaha, I love everything as well! :)Hi Kat! Yes!! One of the many lovely things about NYC's Chinatown :)Hi Ridonkulus! Few vendors here do it in the whole sheet like you mentioned, most I've found in NYC break it up into small cakes. The whole circle is truly amazing, I wish we had more of that!Hi Anon! OO the tofu has never stayed in my fridge long enough…but I'll make sure it never does. Thanks for the tip! :)

  • anonymous
    January 22, 2012

    Thank you for the link love! And I've finally found a recipe for these Hong Kong Egg Cakes that I'm happy with :)

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