This post is dedicated to the sweetest places in Richmond: its bakeries. While there are many scattered throughout the city, today I’m going to focus on those that offer Chinese baked goods, all of which were a new concept to me when I started 365 Days of Dining.
They differ from their western counterparts not only in what they serve, but in their layouts, too. If you’ve never been to a Chinese bakery but have a hankering for something sweet, here are some good tips on how to get started:
How they work:
Chinese bakeries have a more ‘self-serve’ layout than the western-style bakeries I grew up with; there, the goods were always behind a glass case, in front of which I’d hunch for long periods of time, trying to decide what I wanted. In most Chinese bakeries, while they have their cakes and some pastries in refrigerated glass cases, the vast majority of their products are on shelves, or in covered bins, so you can help yourself.
There’s often a stack of plastic trays and serving tongs near the entrance, and customers use the trays and tongs to select what they want, then bring the tray up to the cashier to pay.
If you’re at a bakery with steamed buns, like New Town, you’ll need to request those from behind the counter.
What’s on offer:
In theory, Chinese bakeries have many of the same things as western bakeries: cookies, bread, buns, cakes, tarts, puddings, and doughnuts.
Many of them look a lot different from what I grew up with, however. The doughnuts, for example, are unglazed, usually long and skinny (they almost look like churros), and they come both sweet and savoury. The unsweetened version is often served as an accompaniment to congee.
Large sections of the bakeries are dedicated to buns, which are made with a sweet, tender, buttery white dough. The bigger the bakery, the more diverse the selection of fillings, which come in both sweet and savoury forms. There are buns filled with cheese, barbequed pork, even tuna, and dessert buns filled with sweet coconut paste, taro, bean paste, custard, and more.
If you’re looking to avoid wheat dough, try a glutinous rice flour ‘dumpling’ (jien dui)which are often filled with red bean paste and covered in sesame seeds.
In addition to buns, bakeries also usually carry Chinese egg tarts (which look somewhat like Portuguese custard tarts); loaves of bread, which are pre-sliced and perfectly square; packages of crunchy biscuits coated with everything from sliced almonds to black sesame seeds, and many other sweet snacks. If the bakery sells cakes, they’ll either be sold whole or by the slice, and are often frosted with a thick cream, rather than icing. My favourites are the mango cakes, with their exteriors carefully draped with paper-thin slices of yellow mango.
Some of my favourite snacks in Chinese bakeries are the small, densely-caloric pastries with pastry that shatters upon first bite.
Their exteriors are made of flaky, shortening-rich pastry, which is sometimes coloured according to what’s inside. You can look at the complicated pastry making process here.
Fillings range from thick taro paste to pineapple, date, and my absolute favourite – winter melon. Sometimes there’s even a salted egg yolk thrown in there, or if you’re lucky, a 1000 year egg!
While I can’t possibly list all the treats that Richmond bakeries carry, one that’s on my usual roster is the sachima. While it looks like a puffed wheat or rice square, it’s actually made from a dough that includes eggs, flour, sugar, and oil, which is piped, deep-fried, and shaped into bar form – probably with the help of corn syrup!
It’s sweet, crispy, crunchy, and ‘lighter’ than some of the other choices, despite the rich ingredients.
Where to go:
There are so many options! How to choose!? The very first bakery I went to in Richmond was Kam Do, so let’s start there. Firstly, because it’s just across the street from the Brighouse skytrain station, so it’s easy as heck to get to. Secondly, because it smells sweeter than heaven. The brioche-like aromas pumping out of it are so powerful, you could find your way there with your eyes closed (though given the traffic in the area, that is NOT recommended). It’s a good spot to start because it has a bit of everything. This is where I fell in love with winter melon pastries.
For bao (steamed buns), New Town is a must. It’s in the mall across from Kam Do, so also very close to Brighouse. They offer at least a dozen sweet and savoury varieties, my favourites being the spicy pork (lunch) and custard (dessert!)
New Town was the first place to steal my heart with their cocktail buns (which are filled with coconut paste), and their jien dui are excellent.
For pineapple buns – which are named for their crackled, yellow tops, not because they actually contain any pineapple – you’ll want to head to Lido and/or Happy Date. Lido is actually a restaurant, but their freshly-baked-throughout-the-day pineapple buns are renowned, and usually kept on a rack by the door.
If you ask for them with butter, be prepared to GET BUTTER. Their slices are huge, meaning you’ll pretty much be eating a butter sandwich. It’s incredible.
Happy Date is also a restaurant with its own little bakery, and their sunshine-yellow pineapple buns are top notch.
And now, to get really specific, the place you’ll want to go for pineapple cocktail buns, which combine the goodness of coconut AND the crackly yellow top, is Pine House Bakery in the Richmond Public Market.
It’s a modest little stall but a busy one, and they usually sell out by the end of day. Pine House’s pineapple cocktail buns hit just the right ratio of sweet, salty, and uber-coconutty, making them my favourite baked good in Richmond. Except for maybe the coconut cake at Steveston Vietnamese. But that’s a whole other story. Focus, Lindsay, focus. There’s another, larger Pine House location in Parker Place Mall, which has great sachima.
Maple Castella offers Taiwanese baked goods, including traditional ‘engagement’ cakes, which are given to a bride’s extended family when a couple announces their engagement. While I didn’t try one of THOSE, I do recommend the rousong cheese bread (just don’t feed it to any vegetarians, since rousong = pork floss) and peanut buns.
To explore the world of Filipino baking, go to Kumare, where they serve up tall slices of the outrageously purple ube macapuno cake.
These are just some of the bakery options available to you in Richmond – others include Mega Bakery, SnowBear, Janice’s Cake Shop, Wheat Garden, DeFresh, and Maxim’s. Most malls seem to have one tucked away somewhere, so wander and you’ll find one. There are so many wonderful treats waiting for you. Happy exploring!