While it’s certainly possible to find Chinese bakeries in both of the city’s Chinatowns (as well as in the PATH), the arrival of Lucullus Bakery’s first downtown location (31 Elm St., at Yonge) last month was great news for egg-tart enthusiasts, since the Hong Kong–style bakery and café chain is known to be one of the best in the ‘burbs. Those unfamiliar with Chinese baked goods may find the names and descriptions of these snacks confusing, so here’s a primer on some of the things you can get at Lucullus. Note that none of the baked goods written about below cost more than $2 a piece—how’s that for cheap?—Karon Liu
Egg tarts (dan-tat)
Don’t confuse these little treats with natas (Portuguese egg custard tarts). The Chinese version tastes milkier and it doesn’t have the browned, caramelized look of its western counterpart. Egg tarts are made with a buttery shortbread-type crust or a flaky puff pastry crust. Lucullus makes both kinds, and if you want some, it’s recommended to call ahead to place an order (they bake them in small batches).
Paper-wrapped sponge cake (gee-bao-dan-goa)
This parchment paper–wrapped sponge cake resembles a blooming tulip, which would probably be a more appetizing moniker than its official title: the Cantonese translation for this is literally paper-wrapped cake. They’re most similar to an angel food cake—light but buttery, super moist and fluffy, and the best part is the browned crust on top.
Coconut tart (yea-tat)
If macaroons are your thing, then get these. Chewy, sticky, and sweet, it’s basically shredded coconut packed on top of a short crust. Eat this as a dessert, or during the 3 p.m. candy craving.
Swiss roll (suy-see-guen)
Whether or not Switzerland has anything to do with this remains unclear (the concept of a jelly roll is believed to be an American creation), but this rolled-up sponge cake (filled with whipped cream rather than jelly) is typically eaten with coffee or tea in the afternoon. You can get a whole log, which is enough for six to eight slices, or you can buy them sliced and individually wrapped. Lucullus has flavours like chocolate and coffee.
Curry beef triangle (ga-lay-gok)
Ground beef, chopped onions, and curry (with just a tinge of spiciness) make up the filling of this ultra-flaky pastry. It’s not saucy, but expect puff pastry to explode onto your clothes with every bite.
A NOTE ON BUNS
Sweet, chewy, golden-yellow, and airy, the bread that forms the basic foundation of these Chinese buns is delicious by itself, so even if you eat all the fillings and are left with three bites of plain bread, there is no shortage of flavour. You won’t find a whole-wheat or gluten-free version of these—unless a bakery tries to go new-school—so just for once embrace the white bread. These are usually seen as a cheap breakfast to grab on the go (it’s why they’re individually sealed in plastic bags when you buy them), or something to snack on during afternoon tea.
Pineapple bun (bo-lo-bao)
Named after its pineapple-like appearance (it doesn’t actually contain any fruit), the pineapple bun is one of the most popular Chinese pastries. The best part is the delicate and crunchy sugar coating on top. Make it extra delicious by heating it up in the toaster oven with a slab of butter inside. Once in a while, you’ll find a bakery serving pineapple buns filled with sweet red beans (the default ingredient for many Chinese desserts) or even barbecue pork. Oddly enough, pineapple-stuffed pineapple buns remain elusive.
Hot dog bun (yeet-gao-bao)
More sausage roll than hot dog, this is a single frankfurter of the cheap ballpark variety wrapped in a pillowy bun—no artisan sausages, no house-made aioli or ketchup. Even though it’s a hot dog, you can eat this without heating it up. (Trust us, it still tastes good).
Barbecued pork bun (char-siu-bao)
It’s the wonderful barbecued pork you’ve come to know and love at dim sum, but rather than being packed inside a steamed white bao, it’s inside the chewy sweet bun baked to a honey brown. Like the hot dog bun, these can be eaten cold (though warming it up is best).
Ham and egg bun (foa-tui-dan-bao)
Now this is breakfast to-go: slices of deli ham (the uniformly smooth kind you had for lunch every day as a kid) and egg (also uniformly smooth, and rectangular like a Big Breakfast) are folded into each other like blankets and wrapped in bread. While it looks like an ironic $10 breakfast creation cooked up by a hipster chef (“Bro, you’re killin’ it with this!”), it’s a simple but scrumptious commuter-friendly meal that costs less than $2.
Curry beef bun (ga-lay-bao)
The same curry beef mixture in the aforementioned puff pastry triangle is used here for the bao, making it a less messy option for eating while on the run.
What to get at afternoon tea at a Hong Kong café
Since Hong Kong was a British territory up until 1997, many English customs have become entrenched in Hong Kong culture, such as afternoon tea, but with a Chinese twist. Here’s what to order when going out for “ha-oom cha.”
WHAT TO DRINK:
In addition to regular coffee and lemon black tea, there’s the quintessential Hong Kong drink, sweet black-milk tea. Less familiar in Toronto but just as authentically Hong Kong is the ying-yang, which is coffee and tea mixed together. All these drinks are usually ordered hot, though in the summer they are consumed ice cold.
WHAT TO EAT (Other than baked goods, of course):
Perhaps it’s because of the English influence, but sandwiches at Hong Kong–style cafés are very similar to tea sandwiches (but served regular-sized), consisting of soft white bread with the crusts cut off and fillings like roast beef, egg salad, and tuna (the sandwiches at Lucullus are $3.75). Meals usually start with borscht, though not the beet-filled Russian kind. Chinese borscht ($4.95) is traditionally a tomato-based soup with beef and vegetables, like carrots, celery, cabbage, and potatoes, so don’t get too hung up on the name. Little mousse or cream cakes topped with fruit, like strawberries and canned peaches, are commonly found in the refrigerated counter.
What’s your favourite thing to get at a Chinese bakery? Wife cakes? Sesame seed balls? Coconut cream buns? Let us know in the comments section.