Hon Cafe Review: Green cake from Hon Cafe
Most of my friends and family know me as the cheapest person alive. It’s actually a title I hold dear. Being cheap, you hardly ever find me in a Starbucks drinking overpriced lattes. I do however, love Chinese bakeries. You could say that Chinese bakeries are my Starbucks. Except at one third of the cost. Oh and I don’t spend money on drinks, I spend money on the baked goods, of course. Hon Cafe is one of the newer additions to the Chinese bakery landscape in Chinatown. They have a little cafe in the back where they serve hot food and a bakery in the front where you can get your typical Chinese bakery goodness, and bubble tea. A few days ago, I went to Hon Cafe to buy a mixed fruit cake.
One thing that you notice quite fast if you frequent Chinese bakeries is that people mostly buy bread. Sure, most Chinese bakeries like Hon Cafe have a pretty display case of cutesy individual cakes and whatever. But don’t waste your time on that shit. Seriously, there’s a reason why all those old Chinese grandmas don’t buy that. People don’t go to those bakeries for those cutesy cakes and they sit there forever. If you don’t believe me, try them yourself. I bet two out of three you try will be dry/stale. This stands for any Chinese bakery in the city.
So when would you buy an entire cake? These things are huge compared to the individual-sized cakes. And sometimes they’re decorated well on the outside. For example Hon Cafe had one that looked like a pink piggy. It was adorable, but I had no idea how long it had been inside that display case.
Steph and I were just chilling in the bakery and all of a sudden I see one of the employees about to put a new cake into the display case. Ah… brand new cake. Cake that had not been sitting in the display case for a mysterious amount of time. Cake that had my name written all over it. Well, ok not my name, it was for my sister and the cake was nameless and green. It wasn’t the prettiest cake ever but yo, fresh > prettiness when it comes to cakes.
Unfortunately, I lack the requisite skills to carry the cake home in one piece. Yea, four years of college and I learned nothing about holding a cake in place on the subway. I arrived at home full of excitement. “Awwww, yea, I’m going to use the tripod and really take good pictures of this cake before we eat it.” The excitement was dampened a bit when I discovered the cake got smushed on two sides. Pretty genius yo.
Now for the taste test… the other thing you have to know about mixed fruit cakes from Chinese bakeries is that they are pretty much the same on the inside. It’s plain cake that has two layers. The middle layer is filled with whipped cream and mixed fruit. The outside is decorated however the bakery wants to decorate it. This is where bakeries differ from each other. Hon Cafe has some of the more uniquely decorated cakes. The downside about the cakes is that there is no real frosting. Chinese bakeries use whipped cream to cover the cake on the outside. It makes it lighter and not as sweet, but it also makes it feel like a weird cake. What can I say, I’m a fan of frosting you find on cupcakes.
Since this cake is dirt cheap, it’s kind of hard to complain. I bought this cake for $8 bucks. In fact cakes at Hon Cafe are either $8 or $15. The $15 dollar cake is just too damn big unless you have about eight or ten people trying to eat it. Those cakes are also not as elaborate. Edit: They have raised their prices to $10 dollars for mixed fruit, and $12 for strawberry shortcake. I don’t know details about the bigger cakes, but they’re more expensive too)
Anyway so I’m still in the thick of this book that I’m reading about ways in which the government can practice libertarian paternalism to nudge the public into doing things that’s in the public’s own interest. See sometimes it’s really difficult for people to realize what they do is not in their own best interest. I think this is part of the reason for Bloomberg to push for calorie counts on chain restaurants. People now get to see the caloric ramifications of their diet. For people like me, who don’t give a fuck, it really doesn’t matter one way or the other. If we had a Sonics up around here, I’d be eating tater tots ALL DAY.
I bring this up because there was this post at The FoodSection (hat tip to Freakonomics) about the effects of removing trays from a cafeteria. Basically they found that when you take away trays from a cafeteria, they see a 25% to 30% drop in food waste per person. I think this would be a great idea for public schools to try. Reduction of waste would mean a reduction in food costs and sanitation costs. It’s a win-win. While we’re on the subject of school cafeterias, I want to revisit the whole idea of food placement in a cafeteria. Public schools should look into this in order to determine how to place the healthier foods in a way that would cause to kids to select it. Look, I know cafeteria food sucks, but I think the point of these studies is to show that our behavior can be affected by subtle changes.
It’s a good idea to get schools to waste less food, and also peddle more vegetables to kids. These things are low cost solutions that may have impact. It’s not calling for wholesale changes to the nations agriculture system. It’s backed by quantifiable research. I trust researchers and economists more than slow food movement people like Alice Waters because researchers and economists pride themselves on implementing experiments that isolate the catalyst. The whole point is to perfect your methodology so you can come up with solutions for real problems. Where as I see people like Alice Waters with good intentions, but people like her seem to be backed mostly by good intentions to help those she’s sympathetic to (read: local farmers and suppliers). The other plus side is that you can do these things and it’s not a slap to the face of consumers. It’s not like, “You eating the wrong things! Your carbon footprint sucks!!” People don’t respond to that. It’s like if I told you that there are portions of your iPhone that was made in China. A country where the government oppresses the people of Tibet. So the externality related to your iPhone purchase is that a whole group of people get to be oppressed. See, it’s not so fun when someone randomly takes the chain of events all the way through, now is it?
What I’m trying to say is foodies can concentrate more on things that are impactful and perhaps help the kids. Because after all, IT’S ALL ABOUT HELPING THE KIDS!! Today I also learned that in LA, they passed legislation to mandate restaurants to post their health inspection scores on their door/window. You get letter grades like A or B or C. I wish Bloomberg would do this in order to raise money. See you could do it like this… make restaurants post these things, and during those routine DOH visits, if a restaurant doesn’t have it posted, you fine them. Ah.. revenue. This has two benefits. One is obvious, the fines = revenue. The other is that restaurants wouldn’t want to get a bad score. Bad score might cause customers to go somewhere else. Restaurants would then have an incentive to increase their score. Cleaner restaurants with better sanitation and food prep rules would mean less people getting sick over food and less hospital visits and healthier eating out experiences.
Man, this is the problem with reading a book about great ideas that aren’t implemented. You wish they just happen overnight but they don’t. And all these are food related ideas that would work great in New York or another city. This has been a super long rant. Next time I promise to just read the comic section and rant less. The end.
Hon Cafe70 Mott St.New York, NY 10013212-219-1431