Sunday, May 23, 2010

Chinese pastries

Wife biscuits
Little sponge cakes with sultanas (mouse cakes)
Flaky pastries with sweet or salty bean fillings
When I am in the vicinity of Chinatown, I will make it a point to get some of my favourite Chinese pastries. Unlike Western pastries which are mostly sweet, some of the more popular Chinese ones are salty. My favourite pastry shop is Chop Tai Chong Kok which means Big China in Cantonese. It has been around for years and come every Moon Cake Festival, there will be a queue for its popular moon cakes made in a very traditional way. But for the rest of the year, it sells a wide range of Chinese pastries such as Wife Biscuit ( Lo Por Peng) , a flaky pastry bun filled with a translucent white sweet winter melon filling. There's also a Husband biscuit, a similar looking salty version. I love the Wife biscuits here as the crust is fresh and crispy and its filling has a sweet and chewy texture. Like mooncakes, there is a story behind wife biscuits. Legend had it that a wife sold herself to slavery so that enough money could be raised to cure her father-in-law's sickness. Her grief stricken husband then came up with this receipe and his biscuits became so popular that he was soon able to raise the money to redeem her. Of course, there are many other versions to this story as well. Wife biscuits have been around for a long time and are especially popular in Hong Kong where I believe it is where they originated but I've not heard of husband biscuits till recently. Someone must have thought " Why not ? " and came up with a matching version.

Chop Tai Chong Kok used to be a dimly lit traditional Chinese pastry shop but in recent years, it underwent some renovation and its new premise is bright and cheery with lanterns and well-lit showcases. Attractively displayed is a wide range of pastries that looks similar but are differentiated by its colour and fillings. These are pastries with lotus seed , red bean or green bean paste and most are available in both sweet and salty flavours. And when I was there just a few days ago , I couldn't resist a banana looking sponge cake with sultanas. The lady at the shop said they were mouse cakes. How quaint ! I popped one into my mouth as I was leaving the shop and it was delicious as a light snack. It is very important to have well-lit displays so that the food looks temptingly good enough for customers to try it out for the first time. It is interesting how traditional businesses like this update themselves to cater to a younger market who are exposed to more Western pastries and sweet delights.
Chop Tai Chong Kok
34 Sago Street,
Singapore 059026

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