Friday, October 26, 2007

Tai Cheong Bakery, Hong Kong

From The Star

The perfect tart

Soft on the inside: The egg tarts made at Tai Cheong Bakery are legendary.

Made with the same dedication for over half a century, the egg tarts – as well as the other tasty baked offerings — at Tai Cheong Bakery in Central has created a legendary Hong Kong tea-time story.

Amidst the snaking alleyways and cobblestone paths at Lyndhurst Terrace in Hong Kong, you're bound to find something great to eat at every corner. A sushi bar, a pizzeria, a Chinese medicine hall, Indian eateries, stalls selling roasted duck, freshly blended fruit juices, fried fish balls and tau fu far, and even a Russian restaurant — all peacefully co-existing like a well-run mini United Nations, catering to every tastebud and budget. At a particular bakery on the same street, it’s not uncommon to discover people queuing up every day — to get a taste of Au Yeung Tin-yun’s fabled egg tarts as well as an assortment of other baked delicacies.

Tai Cheong Bakery is a Hong Kong institution of over half a century, which is also the same length of time Au Yeung has been in the trade. He has brought smiles to the faces of Hong Kongers, young and old, as well as a certain former Governor, Chris Patten. In fact, Patten, having been introduced to Tai Cheong’s tarts by his chauffeur, would eventually become the bakery’s staunchest fan. For a while, the bakery’s most popular item was affectionately known as “Chris Tart.”

So what makes the tarts so special? “Let me ask you one thing. Is your mother’s cooking better than yours?” Au Yeung quizzes me. Naturally, my answer is in the affirmative. “There you go. It’s as simple as that. Both of you use the same ingredients, but there’s something that makes her cooking better, right? Well, it’s the same with my tarts,” he says with a modest smile.

“The kinds of eggs we use also make a big difference. Chinese eggs have a stickier texture than Malaysian ones, which is why it’s hard to replicate (the taste of) my tarts,” explains Au Yeung. He should know what he’s talking about having spent the last 58 years perfecting the art of creating the humble yet sublime egg tart.

Perfect to take away, the egg tarts (RM1.60 each) stay fresh for three days. All you need to do is reheat them in the toaster or rice cooker. But when savoured straight from the oven and washed down with a cup of Earl Grey or café latte, the tarts taste the best.

Originally known as the custard tart, which was heavier and richer in taste, the Hong Kong egg tart evolved in very much the same way the city did, with a recipe based on Chinese zeal and Western methods. With its golden yellow centre and flanked by butter pastry that doesn’t flake, the tarts are believed to have been brought to Hong Kong by immigrants from Guangzhou in the 1940s.

But, there’s also a contention that the Chinese adapted the British egg tart to suit local tastes. And in the absence of cheese, the simple egg tart, by the inventiveness, determination and creativity of people like Au Yeung, was able to claim its rightful place as Made with the same dedication for over half a century, the egg tarts – as well as the other tasty baked offerings — at Tai Cheong Bakery in Central has created a legendary Hong Kong tea-time story.

Hong Kong’s pastry of choice — undoubtedly a hit during Sunday morning dim sum with the family or as a weekday afternoon treat.

Tai Cheong’s cookie crust egg tarts might be the most famous item sold at the bakery, but the sugar puffs (RM1.60 each) come a close second. “Our egg tarts are the biggest sellers. At the shop in Central, we sell around 2,800 every day. Our second biggest sellers are the sugar puffs. Our sales average around 1,000 per day,” says Au Yeung.

Looking very much like sugarcoated profiteroles, they were invented by Au Yeung who spent several years as a pastry chef at one of Hong Kong’s top hotels.

Tai Cheong Bakery

Made from deep fried dough, the puffs wouldn’t look out of place at a French patisserie, but after a taste, you’ll know that they’re a Chinese creation. While profiteroles might have a soft texture, Tai Cheong’s sugar puffs are crisp and crunchy, and you’re bound to eat more than one.

The same goes for the coconut puffs (RM1.60 each). Perfect weekend tea-time treats, the offerings from Tai Cheong have the irresistible knack of ruining the best laid diet plans — a sentiment that Au Yeung echoes:

“I tell my customers that my tarts won’t make them fat as the pastry is light. They’re good for people who want to lose weight,” he says before breaking into one of his trademark grins.

35, Lyndhurst Terrace,
Central, Hong Kong
Tel: (+852) 2544 3475


sam said...

A really well written piece, from history of the egg tart, and evolution to the present form! Would be better if you could provide a map link to the bakery's location.


Emily said...

I am glad I read through Hong Kong hotel reviews and I have already made note of Tai Cheong Bakery.