Sunday, April 10, 2011


There are TWO reasons to go to Yuen Long (元朗) in the New Territories. One of them is poon choi (盤菜), the other one is wife cake.
Yes, you can get both of those things elsewhere, but Yuen Long is the source.

Poon choi (basin dish: 盤菜 or 盆菜) is a compound of various ingredients pre-cooked separately, then carefully layered in a basin and reheated together for a short while, so that each ingredient may share some of its flavour and aroma with its neighbors.
The more expensive foods (roast duck and roast pork) are higher on the pile, and their juices will run down through the layers imparting savouriness to the more mundane items, making the braised lobak chunks on the very bottom avidly sought after.
A good poon choi is a feast, a bad poon choi resembles the leftovers that sergeant Yamada was heating up on a hotplate at his desk in the television series Barney Miller.
Poon choi is native to the New Territories (新界), available at some restaurants in the rest of Hong Kong, and not made anywhere else in China.

Wife cake (lo poh beng: 老婆餅) is a Chinese pastry consisting of candied winter melon paste surrounded by layers of contrasting dough – an oil dough around the filling, a water dough on the outside. Both dough layers are rolled together for uniformity, then folded around the filling.
Then an egg wash, and two slits to prevent it puffing up in the oven.
The completed product is baked for about twenty minutes to crisp it, resulting in a confection which is crumbly and delicious when fresh, soft and slightly chewy the next day.
Either way, divine with hot milk-tea.

[The term 老婆 (lo poh) is typically Cantonese, and almost the same in meaning as the hippie-era term 'old lady'. Lo is old, poh is a related female. My old lady = 我嘅老婆 (ngoh-ge lo-poh = my better half.]

What makes the product specifically a 'lo poh beng' is the different dough layers, which separate from each other and render it flaky.
Some bakeries fold the two layers over and roll them out a number of times to create a millefeuille effect.
The home cook is probably better off not trying this, though.

[Caution to the kosher and halal segment of my readers: traditionally, animal shortening (clarified lard) is used in Cantonese bakeries, as it really does yield a better, tastier result. Nowadays some manufacturers use vegetable oils. Butter can also be used. A few companies (including the one mentioned below) use palm oil. Coconut is a small part of the filling. And note that peanuts are a common presence in the kitchen of any Cantonese pastry shop.]

The most famous wife cakes are made by Wing Wah (榮華) in Yuen Long.

榮華餅家 AND 大榮華酒樓

Wing Wah in Yuen Long is well known for wife cakes, though they also make many other things, and run a very fine restaurant on the second and third floor of their building.
Their attention to detail, and the quality of their foods, make the half-century old company a destination.

Address: Number 4-6 On Ning Road, Yuen Long

If you're taking MTR to Yuen Long, get off at Tai Tong Road (大棠路), go down to Green Mountain Road (青山公路) and walk towards Kuk Ting Street (谷亭街), turn right.
Ignore Sing Lee Beef Balls and the Seven Eleven just up from the corner, there's another Seven Eleven scarcely one short block away on Shui Che Kwun (水車館街). Cross Shui Che Kwun. A few yards further on, go left up Sai Tai Street (西堤街). Cross Tai Fung (泰豐街), and keep going on Sai Tai. You should be able to see a red three-storey building at the end of the street by now.

Sai Tai Street curves leftwards and turns into On Ning Road (安寧路), and right on the bend, on the right hand side in that bright red building, is the restaurant.
Taai Wing Wah Jau Lau: 大榮華酒樓.

Note that, predictably, a Seven Eleven occupies one of the ground floor spaces of that building.
Seven Eleven truly is everywhere.
That's VERY suspicious. Hmmmmm!


The entrance to the restaurant is between the news stand and the gift-shop, where you can purchase their famous lo poh beng, mooncakes (in season), and preserved meat products.
If it's still morning, you should have dim sum (點心) here. The steamed egg custard cake (nai wong ma-lai gao: 奶黃馬拉糕) is one of their best dishes, but you may want to concentrate on the more savoury items. Taro cake (woo gok: 芋角), fried glutinous rice cake with pork (haahm sui gok: 咸水角). Very nicely prepared Phoenix claws (chicken feet; fung jao: 鳳爪). Diverse rice flour sheet noodles (cheung fan: 腸粉), plus Chicken buns (gai bao: 雞飽) and Charsiu buns (叉燒包). Steamed shrimp pockets (ha gau: 蝦餃). Pork stuffed into a wheat dough cup (siu mai: 燒賣). And more.

It's all quite delicious. Aren't you glad you came?

Of course Tai Wing Wah Restaurant also does poon choi, which is more suited to later in the day, especially if you're in a group of ten or twelve people. It gets quite crowded, and often there is a line out the door.

There are other places to get poon choi, however, and they are all proud of their versions of the dish.

Taai Foon Hei (大歡喜飯店 'great welcoming happiness rice-shop') at 76 Kau Yuk Road (教育路) is also very good.
Unsurprisingly, they aren't too far from a Seven Eleven.
Look for the green sign that sticks out over the street, stating 大歡喜盆菜.

Peng San Poon Choi (屏山盆菜) is also famous.
They too are in or near Yuen Long, but I do not know exactly where.

There is NO poon choi in San Francisco. You will have to do without.

But we do have lo poh beng.
Every bakery makes those.
And milk tea we also have.


One of the best places is on Jackson Street (昃臣街) between Grant (都板街) and Kearny (乾尼街). They're diagonally opposite the old Great Star Theater. Easy to find.
Nowhere near a Seven Eleven.

607 Jackson Street
San Francisco, CA 94133.

They are justifiably proud of their lo poh beng. They will pack six of them in a special box for you.
In addition to lo poh beng, they also produce a number of other products: breads, non-Chinese pastries, birthday cakes and wedding cakes, and the usual sweet soft biscuits exchanged between families upon the engagement of a young couple.
I heartily recommend them.

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Ah Beng said...

Nei yikaa mow lopoh,ah?

The back of the hill said...

Hai. Ngoh yi kaa mou lopo, mou neui pang yau.

Anonymous said...

But what specifically goes into poon choi?

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