Wednesday, January 12, 2011


When I first moved to San Francisco I frequented a coffee shop and bakery on Grant Avenue.
Several times a week I ended up there, reading the newspapers, swilling coffee, and scarfing down ONE pastry.
Only one, because in those days I was rather low on funds.

Often it was a flaky red bean paste bun ('dow sa bing' 豆沙餠). Which is something the tourists may not like - European and American travelers are predisposed to scoff at local foods wherever they are, and Chinatown is the best of both worlds in that regards - no matter where you're from, the food in San Francisco Chinatown is NOT the real Chinese food you know.

[Examples of places with 'REAL' Chinese food: New York (USA), Bombay (India), and Schiermonnikoog (Netherlands). I've heard from numerous people that what we have here just isn't real. And you can't even find decent chopsuey in Chinatown!]

Other wonderful snacky things were the steamed chicken bun ('kai Bao' 雞包), lotus seed paste pastries ('lienyong bing' 莲蓉餠), wintermelon pastry ('lo po bing' 老婆餠 "old wife biscuit"), various mooncakes .......
Again, please understand that these things are NOT "real" Chinese food.
It's just stuff that Cantonese people eat.

[Wintermelon pastry (老婆餠): the filling is chopped candied wintermelon mixed with glutinous rice flour, shortening and water, and sugar. The crust is made by rolling an oil dough and a water dough together to make layers, after which the filling is enfolded, an egg wash applied, and the result baked for half an hour at 375 to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Each pastry is no more than palm size. When fresh, they are crumbly-flaky.
And very delightful.]

But, because my stand-by snack was the red bean paste bun, I acquired a nickname: 豆沙餠先生 ('Dow-sa Bing sinsang').

One of my friends was 臘腸包 - Steamed Sausage Bun ('Lap cheung bao').
His older sister was 'Coffee Crunch Cake miss'.
Some one else had the name 阿粽哥 ('Ah-Joong go').

[Joong (粽) consists of glutinous rice with fatty meat and peanuts wrapped in bamboo leaves and steamed for a long time till the filling has melded together. Ko (哥) means 'older brother'.]

There was also someone nicknamed 蛋撻 ('Dan Tat' - egg tart).
Every Chinatown bakery has a customer with that handle (except for the Golden Gate Bakery, for reasons which will become apparent).

I remember their names, because they were delicious.

There are, of course, many bakeries in Chinatown that are worth frequenting. The open-minded eater will find much that bears repeat visits.

[Wikipedia: Chinese Bakery products . And please note that there are a number of errors in that article, as well as in related (linked) entries.]

But where to start?

永興餅家茶餐廳 ('wing hing bing ka tsa tsan teng')
1068 Stockton St
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 981-0123

Beautiful cakes ('dan go' 蛋糕) - angel food layers with fresh fruit and whipped cream - that demand a second and third slice. The birthday cakes ('sang yat dan go' 生日蛋糕) come in various sizes, and can be special ordered. At the end of summer, they have the largest selection of mooncakes (traditional fillings surrounded by a thin crust, often including a salted egg yolk for contrast and extra richness).
Tables and hot coffee.
This place is on my regular list.

東亞餅家 ('tung ah bing ka')
720 Grant Avenue
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 433-7973

Coffee crunch cake, superb mooncakes, various small pastries. The custard pie is very good too. As are also the steamed pork and chicken buns. Many Manila-Town regulars remember this place, as it was a regular haunt before the International Hotel was torn down and they had to relocate. Their children still come here to pick up the cakes they remember from childhood.
Tables and hot coffee.

嘉頓餠家 ('ka twun bing ka')
765 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 397-5838

Pineapple buns and cocktail buns.

金門餅家 ('kam moon bing ka')
1029 Grant Ave
(between Jackson St & Pacific Ave)
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 781-2627

The same selection of small pastries that most Chinatown bakeries have, plus the same cafeteria coffee machine. But honestly, what everyone lines out the door for are the egg custard tarts ('dan tat' 蛋撻), which are conceivably the best in Chinatown. Hot and fresh several times a day. Some people say that there are better ones, but that's a matter of opinion.
Golden Gate's little egg custard tarts are well worth your joining the waiting throng.
Tables and hot coffee - but good luck sitting down.

好旺角包餅店 ('ho wong kok bao bing diem')
1039 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108

Not only an extensive selection of bakery items, but also very good steamed snacks of the typical Chinatown variety. Chive dumplings!
PLUS: Charsiu bao (叉燒包), choi yiuk bao (菜肉包), kai bao (雞包), and Northern type steamed bread ('mantou' 饅頭) - all excellent.
And a line of people out the door.

[Three SMALL tables, but at least two of them are usually covered with stacked boxes and stuff. So good nei ge luck. My ex loves this place, by the way.]

美美餅食公司 ('mei mei bing sik kongsi')
1328 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94133.
(415) 362-3204

Mooncakes. Primarily mooncakes. Highly recommended..... for mooncakes.
It's a fortune cookie factory - were you really expecting to sit down?

拿破崙餠屋 ('na po lun bing ok')
1049 Stockton Street
San Francisco, CA 94108
(415) 951-8133

Freshness and softness are two major characteristics of the Napoleon Super Bakery, though much of what they offer may not be familiar to you. Try the custard rolls and the egg tarts, and of course the chestnut cake. Much of what they do is 'nouveau' by Chinatown standards.
But they do it very well.
Tables and coffee.

容記糕粉 ('yung kei kow fan')
732 Jackson St
San Francisco, CA 94133
(415) 986-3759

Charsiu bao (叉燒包), choi yiuk bao (菜肉包), kai bao (雞包), and Northern type steamed bread ('mantou' 饅頭). You'll have to stand in line with old ladies (really vicious old ladies!), it's that good.
Hole-in-the-wall with a counter.

[Update: Yong Kee no longer exists. There's a new place there now named Wong Lee Bakery ('hou wong lei' 好旺利). They have big chicken buns.]

Plus, as a lagniappe:

小巴黎咖啡室 ('siu ba lei ka fei sat')
939 Stockton Street
San Francisco , CA 94108

Top-notch Vietnamese sandwiches. Also a variety of cooked food, but go there for the sandwiches and the cà phê sữa đá ('ga-fei nai bing' 咖啡奶冰 - Vietnamese coffee with condensed milk and ice).

There are of course other bakeries and dim sum counters in Chinatown. The list could be very extensive if I listed them all.
Just remember, there's more to Chinese bakery items than just the baked charsiu buns you can get all over San Francisco, and do not assume that it's sweet because it looks flaky - two of the best things are the curry puffs ('ka-lei kok' 咖哩角) and the charsiu turnovers (叉燒酥).

And, if you're green from too much partying the night before, glutinous rice sugar pudding ('pak tong go' 白糖糕 "white sugar cake") as well as steamed sheet-noodle roll ('chu cheung fan' 豬腸粉) are marvelous choices - tasty, and very gentling on the savaged digestive membranes.

NOTE: Readers may contact me directly:

All correspondence will be kept in confidence.


Anonymous said...

I haven't discovered a bakery yet in Oakland's Chinatown but I do have a favorite dim sum place I frequent. Tao Yuen Pastry. Cheap dim sum, noodles, and maybe a dozen sweets to choose from. Of course I don't know their proper names. I just point and smile.

The back of the hill said...


1. Yong Kee (容記糕粉) closed down a few months ago.

2. Little Paris (小巴黎咖啡室) had to relocate because the building will be torn down for the Chinatown Station of the metro line. They have a site out in the avenues, and are working on a new location at 1131-33 Stockton Street, right near the Canton Plaza (廣東市場), opposite 聯興超級市場 and 中平園.

The back of the hill said...

A marvelous place for interesting Hong Kong pastries AND traditonal stuff:

607 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94133.

Their wife biscuit (老婆餠 lo po bing) are very good indeed, great with a hot beverage.

Anonymous said...

Dan gao with peaches!

Anonymous said...

Anything about bakeries in Oakland Chinatown?

The back of the hill said...

December 5th., 2012

FYI: The new Little Paris (小巴黎咖啡室) is on Stockton Street, west side, in between Jackson and Pacific. Opposite 聯興超級市場, right next to 廣東市場.

Not yet open as of this writing, but soon.

The back of the hill said...


There is now a new bakery & snackshop in the location where 容記容記糕粉店 used to be. It opened about a week ago, and as yet I have not sampled their wares. Very HK looking.

"容記饅頭店" was for many years a C'town standard. They retired early in Summer, and the store front was empty for several months.


Anonymous said...

Stumbled upon your blog, it's awesome. But more importantly, where ARE the best lao po bing 老婆餠 in SF?

The back of the hill said...

"Stumbled upon your blog, it's awesome. But more importantly, where ARE the best lao po bing 老婆餠 in SF?"

Thank you!

For me, the very best lou poh beng (老婆餠) in the city are down on Jackson Street at Yummy Bakery.

607 Jackson Street, San Francisco, CA 94133.

But, in all honesty, I have had better ones. There's something about the air here, and the available ingredients, that affects taste.

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