Saturday, December 16, 2006

Where the best egg tarts are?

A few years back, Hong Kong put in a bid to host the Asian Games. (The latest edition of which has just come to a close in Doha, Qatar.) This action was accorded satirical coverage in My Life as McDull, the 2001 animated film which won the hearts of local Hong Kong audiences and also the FIPRESCI ((Fédération Internationale de la Presse Cinématographique) Prize for Young Asian Cinema at the 2002 Hong Kong International Film Festival; with a memorable movie moment coming out of the suggestion that Hong Kong's official slogan for its Asian Games bid being "Hong Kong, One Big Egg Tart"!

Why "One Big Egg Tart"? Considering that the titular McDull in that wonderful movie is a piglet who can be on the obsessed side when it comes to food, the logical retort may well be "Why not?!" After all, Hong Kong is a place where (good) food is accorded great import. And if there were a culinary item which symbolizes local tastes and "The Fragrant Harbour" itself, the egg tart -- specifically the Hong Kong version that's referred to in Cantonese as daan tart -- would be a top contender for that accolade (along with such as char siu (trans., barbecued pork), curried yee tan (trans. fish balls), char siu pau (trans. barbecued pork buns) and wonton (a traditional Chinese dumpling).

On a personal note, I've taken to making it a point to partake of at least one daan tart on each of my recent visits to Hong Kong. This is not least because I belatedly discovered that egg tarts in Hong Kong truly can be heavenly since, unlike in such places as Penang (which, yes, is a food haven but alas, is not tops as far as Cantonese dishes are concerned!), Hong Kong purveyors of egg tarts appear to make it a point to serve this flaky, egg-custardy pastry hot -- or, at least, heated -- and, somehow, this can make all the difference in the world!

For a time, I used to get my egg tarts from the Wing Wah Restaurant in Lock Road, Tsim Sha Tsui ("TST" for short). This was in large part out of convenience because I tended to stay in hotels located in TST and it became routine to pop out in the morning to get a couple of daan tarts and a copy of the South China Morning Post before heading back to enjoy both of them in my hotel room.

Also, since egg tarts are a regular dim sum offering, I often couldn't pass up the chance to try some of these pastries -- which, incidentally, are theorized to be either Chinese adoptions of English custard tarts or inspired by English fruit tarts and, as such, might be considered to be British colonial legacies! -- at whichever restaurant I went out to for dim sum -- or, as Hong Kongers prefer to call the meal: yum cha (trans., drink tea!) -- in Hong Kong.

(Should anyone wonder, I love going to the Luk Yu Tea House in Central to yum cha as well as for other meals; but only if it's with someone who is a regular customer there and therefore able to melt the notoriously crusty waitstaff there. Otherwise, I tend to head for the friendlier Serenade Restaurant which, thanks to its location on the southern side of the Hong Kong Cultural Centre, also has the bonus of boasting panoramic views of the northern section of Hong Kong Island.)

After trying out the HK$2 egg tarts at a modest bakery (whose name I didn't commit to memory!) on Public Square Street in Yau Ma Tei that I had often passed on my way to and from the Broadway Cinematheque on my most recent visit to Hong Kong -- and finding them to be absolutely melt-in-your-mouth delicious -- though, I got to wondering whether one simply can't go wrong with regards to finding good daan tarts in Hong Kong!

Even if this were the case, however, post having tasted an egg tart from the famous Tai Cheong Bakery in Central's Lyndhurst Terrace, I feel obliged to report that there does appear to be a place that truly is tops when it comes to daan tarts. And yes, it's that establishment which counts among fans of its egg tarts the last British Governor of Hong Kong, Chris Patten (now Baron Patten of Barnes but, apparently, someone who will forever be known to most Hong Kongers as "Fatty Pang"!). (And the Wikipedia entry for Chris Patten which I've linked to in this paragraph notwithstanding, is now back in Lyndhurst Terrace -- albeit on the other side of the street from where the original store stood.)

How good -- nay, great -- are Tai Cheong Bakery's egg tarts? I realize that my tastes are subjective and all but I'd venture to opine that even while they cost HK$1 more than the ones at that bakery on Public Square Street, they're most definitely worth every penny. Additionally, here's letting you know that when I was eating -- nay, scarfing down! -- the daan tart (while standing outside the store -- sad but true: I couldn't wait any longer once I had it in my hot little hands!), I apparently had such an ecstatic look on my face that my companion with me on that occasion told me that I looked like I was having an orgasm (or, at the very least, about to have one)! ;D


Egg Tart Fan said...

Can you further elaborate on the differences between the egg tarts at the Wing Wah Restaurant, Public Square St eatery, & the Tai Cheong Bakery. How does the flavor & texture of the custard and the crusts differ.

The best egg tarts I've tasted were at a Macau Egg Tart franchaise that happened to be in Nanjing. They were just cooked and so warm and yummy.

On my recent trips to both NYC & Flushing Chinatowns I've found the crusts to be too thick and chewy. And one bakery put a lot of nutmeg in the custard.

I'm beginning to suspect the time between when they're fresh and when I buy and eat them is important...


YTSL said...

Hi egg tart fan/SBK --

Flavor wise: The Tai Cheong Bakery egg tart is richer tasting than the Wing Wah Restaurant and Public Square Street bakery's. E.g., as sacrilegious as it may sound, I was happy with eating a single Tai Cheong Bakery egg tart at one sitting and was afraid to go get and eat a second one because I was afraid the effect would get spoiled due to "over-kill" otherwise.

At the same time, the Tai Cheong Bakery egg tart was more custardy and less "sweet eggy" tasting than the two others -- while between the Wing Wah Restaurant and Public Square Street bakery's egg tarts, the latter tasted more "custardy" than the former.

Texture-wise: The Tai Cheong Bakery's egg tart was so soft that that it really felt like it could melt in your mouth. Additionally, when you held the egg tart in your hand, it felt like its egg/custard center was quivering and close to liquidity while the crust as well as the center was moist enough that even it never felt like it was all going to break up into dry flakes, etc. in front of you.

And the second softest of the three -- both in terms of the egg/custard section and the crusts -- was the Public Square Street bakery's.

Overall, I'd say that the Wing Wah Restaurant's egg tart felt the most "robust" and dry of these three whereas the others felt delicate to touch even while being "rich" in taste.

Anyways, hope these elaborations help rather than further confuse! ;)

sbk said...

yes, thank you