Tag Archives: Hong Kong

Pastry Post-Doc: Mooncakes for the Mid-Autumn Festival

chinaIt’s almost time for the Mid-Autumn Festival in China and Vietnam (September 15 this year), which means one thing – mooncakes (yue bing)! Mooncakes are round, molded pastry cakes with dense fillings, and have been eaten in conjunction with the Mid-Autumn Festival since the Ming Dynasty. Mooncakes, as befits their name, are said to represent the moon, and are traditionally imprinted with the Chinese characters for longevity or harmony. Mooncakes are made with pastry crust and are traditionally filled with red bean or lotus paste with whole egg yolks, but the fillings vary wildly, depending on location. You can buy pre-made mooncakes with countless crust and filling types at most Asian grocery stores or bakeries (and even more elaborate varieties if you are in Hong Kong), but you can also make them on your own! Andew Gooi has a lovely video of how mooncakes are made, which you can see below.

Mooncakes are traditionally shaped with wooden molds, but you can also find some plastic or silicone (round or square) online. Making mooncakes is a multi-step process and may require some special ingredients from a well-stocked Asian grocery, like golden syrup, which you can also make on your own. China Sichuan Food and House of Annie have recipes for a traditional Cantonese version with egg yolk and red bean filling. Serious Eats has a recipe without the egg yolk. If you are feeling lost, Omnivore’s Cookbook has an extremely comprehensive recipe and step-by-step guide for the mooncake newbie newbie. If you are in the mood for something avant-garde, Christine has a recipe for for the more modern green tea custard or pandan snow skin mooncakes.


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Koko Bakery for sweets and bubble tea in Cleveland

chinaKoko Bakery (3710 Payne Ave, Cleveland, OH 44114) has a little something for everyone, and is a great place in to get your bubble tea fix, and follow it up with some egg tarts and sweet red bean buns. Koko Bakery reminds us of an amalgamation of some of our favorite spots in Chicago: combining the Chinese buns from Chiu Quon Bakery with the huge bubble tea menu of Saint’s Alp, all in a clean, simple cafe that has an almost-intimidating variety of treats (and free wifi).
kokobakery Along one side of the restaurant, there is a bakery case with all sorts of Chinese, Hong Kongese, and Taiwanese pastries, in both sweet and savory varieties – all you do is pick up a tray, and start using the tongs to pick out which items you want (most priced under $2). We tried the red bean bun, the Char Siu Bao (BBQ pork bun) and the egg tarts, and all were quite good (and super cheap). Other varieties of buns and pastries included bo lo (pineapple bun), taro, cream-filled, strawberry, peanut butter, scallion, cheese, beef, chocolate and coconut. Koko also has frozen buns to take and bake, sweet cakes in flavors like Ube and green tea, and a second bakery case filled with Asian and European inspired petit fours: from mango and chocolate mousses to mooncakes to mini cheesecakes. It seems like pretty much every surface of this modest store is covered in baked goods, and on the right side, you will find other non-refrigerated sweets like sesame cookies and loaves of milk bread.


The bubble tea menu is also massive! You can get all different varieties, from iced fruit smoothies to sweetened coffee to the Hong Kong style milk teas (in flavors like matcha, mango, melon, Thai tea, lychee, etc.), and you can also customize the sugar level and type of bubbles you want. Just when you thought you couldn’t eat any more, Koko also has substantial savory meals, and Taiwanese shaved ice, though we have never tried these selections. Koko Bakery is a solid Chinese bakery in Cleveland, and you can be assured that there will be something new to try on each visit!Koko2

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Bubble Tea and More at Saint’s Alp in Chicago’s Chinatown

Hong KongtaiwanThe name of the Hong Kong-based chain Saint’s Alp (2157 S China Place, Chicago, IL 60616) has always puzzled us – much like the steakhouse chain Ruth’s Chris, it seemed like the apostrophe was in the wrong place. But whatever the grammar, Saint’s Alp is an awesome place for a Taiwanese-style bubble tea or a savory snack in Chicago. Saint’s Alp started in Hong Kong, but has since expanded to over 40 stores worldwide, and their Chicago location was the first in the US. The Chicago Saint’s Alp relocated semi-recently to a shop in Chinatown Plaza, so it really is in the heart of it all. Truth be told – we have never gone to Saint’s Alp for the food, but we have never been steered wrong by their bubble teas. What is particularly impressive about Saint’s Alp is their massive tea selection. BobaIf you are indecisive – be warned – there is actually a book of tea varieties to flip through before you make your choice. They have more traditional green, black and oolong tea varieties along with the milk teas (which may or may not have tea in them in some cases). We especially like these dairy-or nut milk based teas, a generally popular choice, which come in varieties like Black Tea, Matcha, Almond Milk, Taro and Sesame. You can order the teas with the classic round, tapioca pearls – or boba – but there are also other more unique add-ins like “nata” coconut cream or rainbow agar jelly. Most teas are available either hot or iced, and in small or large sizes – any of which will run you less than $5.SaintsAlpWithout seeing the menu itself, it is impossible to gauge all of the varieties available, from Sumiyaki Coffee (instant coffee usually served with coconut milk) to Kumquat Lime Nectar to Iced Mint Cream Tea. There are also fresh fruit smoothies, and milkshake-like sweet drinks with yogurt or chocolate. Although there is a seating area inside Saint’s Alp, there is nothing better than taking a stroll around Chinatown and Ping Tom Park with an iced bubble tea in hand. Though if you are like me, you may want to take a look at the menu beforehand!

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Encountering Egg Waffles in San Francisco’s Chinatown

wpid-wp-1430276183168.jpegHong KongMany years ago, I wrote about the Hong Kong Street food – the egg waffle (called gai daan jai in Cantonese). However, I had never really even tried one! The wait is over though – when I visited San Francisco – I was lucky enough to visit a cafe that had an egg waffle machine. The sight of the egg waffle maker in the window stopped me in my tracks, and drew me into the Sweetheart Cafe (909 Grant Ave, San Francisco, CA 94108). The waffle maker looked like the kind they often have at American hotels – heavy cast iron, with a handle that closes and flips over the waffle while cooking. There were circular depressions in the egg waffle maker, which eventually made a large sheet of waffle-like dough with spherical bubbles. After a few short minutes, the cook picked off the waffle with chopsticks, rolled it into a tube, and placed in a paper bag. One egg waffle was $4, and you could also get yours topped with chocolate or coconut (I went for the original). The egg waffle was good, and tasted like a light, sweet, airy…. waffle. So ok, it was pretty much what you would expect. It was definitely a fun snack, and easy to rip off an “egg” or two at at time while wandering around Chinatown. Where’s your favorite place to get egg waffles?


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What is XO sauce?

Hong KongI have come across Chinese recipes and restaurant dishes calling for XO Sauce, but had no idea of what the cryptic name truly meant. It turns out this sauce is relatively new, and bears an interesting history.  XO Sauce consists of dried shrimp and scallops cooked down with pork, oil and chili (the pork is sometimes omitted). XO Sauce was first developed in Hong Kong in the 1980s and its popularity has spread from there, finding its way onto international Cantonese restaurant menus and beyond. I definitely understand its appeal – it is basically liquid umami with an added kick! So where does the name XO come from? It is apparently derived from an expensive Cognac designation, “XO” which stands for “extra old.” The sauce itself has no cognac, but is meant to evoke the same luxury. Talking c0st alone, this sauce is pretty luxurious – dried scallops are extremely expensive! You can buy XO sauce ready-made in Asian supermarkets or even make it yourself with recipes from Gourmet Traveller and Kylie Kwong.

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Hong Kong: Eggettes

There is nothing we love more than a sweet, sugar carb-y item. Just when we think we have the market cornered we always seem to find a new global combination of flour, butter and sugar. Our latest surprise was the Hong Kong Eggette. Literally named, Eggettes are little bubbly waffles (naturally in the shape of eggs), cooked on a special iron. They are typically a street food in Hong Kong and other Cantonese-speaking areas like Macau. However, if you cannot make it to Hong Kong eggette loving home-cook can try their hand with an egg waffle pan.

Eggettes in Hong Kong


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Hong Kong: Sun Wah BBQ

Sun Wah BBQ
5039 N. Broadway
Chicago, IL

When you see a restaurant with whole roast ducks hanging in the window you know you’re in for some good food. The updated Sun Wah space is a veritable palace of meat, with Peking duck window-dressing and a freakishly large menu pushing everything from Chilean Sea Bass to Pig Intestine. Upon entry there was already a massive queue in front of the takeout counter, but ample space to sit down inside.

You know you will be getting huge quantities of meat at Sun Wah, but the prices are even more killer. There is an entire page of meat combos that provide you with a choice of two of the following: duck/pork/beef/chicken with various sauce permutations on top of a mountain of rice. To start out with we ordered a bowl of Hot n Sour Soup ($4.25). The bowl was gargantuan and arrived in barely a few minutes. In quick succession the rest of our meals arrived: Salt and Pepper Chicken and BBQ Pork ($5), Roast Pork and BBQ Chicken ($5), BBQ Duck ($5).

The salt and pepper chicken was unfortunately a little “mystery” for us and contained what looked like a quarter of a chicken hacked into cubes, bones and all. The pork dishes were more successful, and the roast pork had a delicate flavor while the BBQ packed a sweet and sour punch. The duck came with a generous portion and was absolutely roasted to perfection.

One warning though: come for the food – but hang on to your plates. Before we got to shovel in even half of the hot and sour soup – it was unceremoniously removed from our table by the waitress who did not seem to respond to our desperate cries of “WAIT.” Even sans soup we still ended up with another full meal out of our leftovers. We were totally impressed by Sun Wah, the food was amazing, at any price, but seriously, hang on to your plates!

Sun Wah by

Sun Wah by VXLA

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Tea Tuesday: Guang Sang Tea / Roland Tea Tins

Vanilla Tea Hong KongWe’re not going to lie, we are drawn to nice food packaging designs. Of course this extends to one of our passions, tea, as well. If you’re perusing though the aisles of any Chinese grocery story or specialty store you’ll usually be able to find some nicely packaged teas in appealing tins of all shapes and sizes. So when we went to the Chinese gift emporium Pearl River Market in NYC (477 Broadway,  between Grand St. and Broom St. in Soho) we thought we must have hit the jackpot. Pearl River is a veritable pantheon of garish, fun and colorful tea tins. Some of the showiest tins, with something of a retro flair, come from a Hong Kong company called Guang Sang Tea (which also goes by the imprint Roland). If you’re not in NYC, you can peruse the selection of tea tins at Pearl River online. The Roland vanilla tea tin at left is one of our favorites.

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The transnational Macanese egg tart

MacauThe egg tart may be the perfect example of a truly transnational and international food! Egg tarts are pretty simple in their perfection, baked egg custard in a flaky pastry shell. Egg tarts are a big part of Macanese cuisine, and expanded later in Hong Kong and China. Macau was a former colony of Portugal. The egg tart was supposedly invented at Lord Stow’s on the island of Coloane in Macau. The tarts are related to the Portuguese Pastel de Nata an egg tart that is something of a national institution.

The tarts were introduced to Hong Kong in the 1940s through tea houses called cha chaan teng, which are known for their extensive selections of snacks and treats. Today, in Hong Kong and Taiwan you can even get Egg Tarts from KFC.


One major differentiation between a Macanese egg tart and a regular egg tart is that the Macanese varieties have a layer of caramelized sugar on top. You can get these little treats for a steal at many bakeries around town. We got this tart above for only $0.95 at Richwell Market in Chinatown – where you can get both plain and Macau-style tarts. For a taste of Macau via Portugal, China and Hong Kong, that’s a pretty good deal.

Richwell Market
1835 S Canal St

Chicago, IL 60616


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