You may be intrigued by the headline for this article, Hong Kong Bums. I hope I do not disappoint, but this month's story is not about the behinds of my fellow HK counterparts, but of those succulent, juicy bums that are, well, for purchase. And no, it's not the ones that involve going under the knife but the simple and delicious hot mounds at local eateries. Still intrigued?
"Nice buns," I heard someone say in my general direction. Unfortunately, he wasn't referring to mine, but the plate of round, warm and luscious buns that hit the table at dim sum. If you're a bun lover like me, dim sum may be the best place to seek the best buns in the industry, and we HK'ers are so spoiled. They come baked, fried, and steamed. In this day and age, these little pillows of goodness are given new twists; savoury and sweet all in one. Look at it as a bit of a nudge to those early Sunday dim sum gatherings with the family after a big night out. HK is so lucky when it comes to simple grub, we get them cheap and easily accessible, but most importantly, substance isn't negotiated.
Old fashioned white steamed Cha Siu Bao (barbecue pork buns) may be first to come to mind when you mention buns at a Cantonese restaurant. Don't get me wrong, I love these old fashioned Cantonese staple when done right, slightly sweet, light and paper white bread stuffed with pork fat and barbecued pork in a tawny honey sauce. I'd say the best are at West Villa, famous for their barbecued pork, but their Baked Mexican Almond Cream Buns are to die for. Think soft buoyant bum bums :).
The "Mexican" bun (image 1, 3) is the pineapple bun of the millennium. A baked bun with a buttery flaky top crust, with decadent innards from meat to custard. Che's Cantonese Restaurant makes one of the best Baked Mexican Buns in HK. Yummy barbecued pork goodness housed in a thin exterior and a bubbly crusty roof. Worth saving room for. Or if you are really in the mood for local eateries and don't mind the unpredictable wait time, Tim Ho Wan makes quite a heavy-weight Cha Siu Mexicano bun.
I'd say the whole "sweet and savoury" combo came out of Canton, when one food empire invented the Number One bun, mini pineapple buns stuffed with cha siu, later the Drippy Egg Yolk bun followed after the success of the Number One. It hit Cantonese cuisine like wayfarers changing the sunglass world. The drippy egg yolk bun is Satan in a bun. It's a heart attack waiting to happen. Think salted duck yolk blended into a sweet runny golden lava inside a steamed white bun. Need I say more?
But my ultimate favourite way (a real sinner) to eat are pineapple buns straight out of the oven and stuffed with a thick slab of salted butter, never mind that the bun is already made of fat. It emerged from old-school Bing Suts, once a favourite place for school kids and taxi drivers to have a snack or afternoon tea. The butter softens but not melted, the bun is warm, soft, sweet, and fragrant, the crusty segmented top is my favourite part. There's something very nostalgic about each experience, like a trip down memory lane. As a child, I'd used to pick off the top and just eat the crust, but as I got older, I also fell in love with the bun. I used to have to trek to Prince Edward for the best oven fresh pineapple bun at Kam Wah, but now the new Tsui Wah outlets have an in-house bakery, I am able to get excellent oven fresh p-buns all the time.
I guess everyone is aloud a little guilty pleasure on their birthday. The Sao Bao, meaning longevity buns are a Chinese tradition for birthdays. And I can't tell you how well HK chefs adapt this recipe. Growing up in Canada, the Sao Bao were always taken out of the freezer, and were tough and crumbly. Boy, it was love at first bite in HK. They are complete opposites to those back home. I guess the Vancouver chef's just lacked the skills to make a good Sao Bao. In HK, they are fresh, moist, delicate and soft. The lotus seed paste stuffing is never overly sweet, is velvety smooth, and sometimes, you can find them also with a salted duck yolk as a bonus. CWB's West Villa makes an excellent birthday bun, it's large and comes in an individual steamer. Lei Gardens in IFC also makes a good version.
"Have some tea, eat a bun," is a common Cantonese phrase, and who can doubt our love for bread and buns by the number of bakery shops in HK. They're everywhere. Typical buns like the cha siu, pineapple and cocktail bun, and later, tuna buns, curry beef buns, ham and fried egg buns, and flying saucers were born. All Chinese buns are usually made with a hint of sweetness, which is a great balance of the savoury aspect. Leighton Bakery (G/f, 10 Matheson Street, Causeway Bay) is my favourite local bakery, as their buns are soft and fragrant. The sweet dinner buns are super duper. Catch them early in the morning when they are hot and fresh, where on-the-go's line up out the door for the made-to-order fried egg and ham stuffed in the sweet dinner buns.
Ahhhh, last but not least, the Tsui Wah Crispy Bun deserves a standing ovation. Swirls of condensed milk scribbled on a heavily buttered toasted portuguese bun. Hard on the outside, soft on the inside.
Now I need the help of you fellow foodies, one type of bun that I love but have failed to find a good one in HK is the cinnamon bun. An ooey gooey cinnamon bun with real cream cheese frosting.
Although this article was on the fantastic selection of baked, steamed, and fried morsels of flour and not our actual bums, on the other hand, after you've tried and tested what's available, it might become an actual case of the HK bum.