It is almost upsetting to see that there is barely any recognition within communities here, apart from those heavy interlaced with Asian influences. Chinese Boulangerie are mostly secluded within Chinese neighbourhoods i.e. Chinatowns in the US, a place for loud Chinese speaking customers to "relax" (the word relax here might seem misused as the constant interception of noisy conversations would suggest anything but place desired for seeking a restful time!). For most with their products well hidden behind counter like gems concealed within a treasure chest, the experience of visiting one could be intimating for foreigners. Despite all the gritty surface, real treasures could be savoured if you are willing to take a dip into this unfamiliar territory!
When I mentioned Pain from Chinese Boulangeries, they are usually the savoury or sweet buns that have emerged from the oven. In traditional Chinese cuisines, their version of buns and sponges are usually blossomed inside steamers; convention ovens are not their gadgets of choice. The foreign occupation of Hong Kong was undoubtedly followed by the demand of foreign cuisines. Baked bread was ranked highly among other items on their list, as it was a necessary item to break their fast. This trend opened up a line of job opportunities for the locals whom were living through poverty and hardship; it also became a possibility for those whom were keen on experiments on new creations that suited the general public.
I have no doubt that Hong Kong folks would be bugged if this introduction did not begin with the Pineapple Bun "菠蘿包", a misleading name for a fabulous creation, as you would not be able to find it on its ingredients list. It is a sweet treat that is no simpler than a fluffy bun with a crispy sweet overcoat.
So why all the buzz? Apart from being simply delicious, it is a signature icon that represents Hong Kong, both its history and character. It is believed that with the lack of resources during post-war periods, and the preference of locals for sweets, left over breads were topped with a pastry made of a dough similar to that used to make Chinese sugar cookies, which consists of sugar, eggs, flour and lard. The crusty sweetness complements the embraced bread that is soft and slightly sweetened. Lard is the key for the dimensions of texture; the sweet crust should be slightly crispy and flaky on the exterior, yet moist and tender at where it meets the bread component.
To up the caloric metre further, this steaming hot bun can be turned into an over-the-top treat with the insertion of an icy cold slab of savoury butter - a creation named Buttered Pineapple Bun "菠蘿油" that is still popular among many and often seen savoured at local Hong Kong style cafes "茶餐廳" and street stalls "大牌檔" (sadly....these true street food stalls are almost extinct in Hong Kong). This treat is certainly not for the faint of heart and absolutely not recommended as an everyday (or should I say every-month) treat. However, this delicate contrast between hot and cold, salty and sweet, crispy and tender, it is a perfect example of heavenly taste with a small package.
To keep up with the trend of fusion cuisines, numerous creations were born with the combination of either savoury or sweet filled centres - custard and Chinese barbeque pork are the favourites among the residents. The most memorable one for me would be the Gam Tou Sou "金桃酥", a creation by a century-old Boulangerie situated in Macau, called Pastelaria Fong Kei "晃記餅家". It is a divine marriage of the Pineapple Bun Crust and the Chinese Wife Cake (a traditional Chinese pastry made with winter melon and almond paste, which gives it the mochi texture).
So why call it the Pineapple Bun? The name originated in 1960s, from the fact that its sugary top crust is cooked to a golden-brown color, and because its checkered top resembles the epicarp of a pineapple. In 2005, "Pineapple Bun" was nominated as a potential typhoon name but was rejected. The director of the Hong Kong Observatory, Lam Chiu Ying, as one of the judges for the naming process, commented: "If we say XX country is being ravaged by a Pineapple Bun, that would be too hilarious."!