Taiwanese pastries and the wonders of the mung bean cake

Taiwanese pastries and the wonders of the mung bean cake

The other day I heard about this new book out that’s supposed to help you order the special stuff when you go to an Asian restaurant. The ‘special’ stuff is generally the menu that’s written without any English on it. I’m not sure if this kind of stuff goes on in Chinatown here in Manhattan, but I know this is the case at many Chinese restaurants in suburbia. If you’re Asian, you know exactly the reasoning behind such a move. There are times when you eat something Asian-y and it’s not that weird or crazy but you say to yourself, “White people won’t eat this shit.” If you’re non-Asian and that offended you, oh wellz. If you’re Asian, you know exactly what I’m talking about. For example, I think tripe is delicious, but I even know Chinese people who don’t like tripe. And if you don’t like tripe, wait til you try fallopian tubes! (Not kidding on that, although that was a long time ago and I only tried it once). Other things like mung bean is very popular in Taiwan but doesn’t really get much play around here. Today I’ll show you a couple of desserts that I think most people would try and love and it’s no where near as crazy as fallopian tubes.

These things you see above are called wife cakes. In Mandarin it sounds something close to ‘lao po bing’ (but if your pingying is better and can give me a better one, I’ll change it). I don’t eat these much anymore because bakeries in NY don’t know how to make them taste good. They’re popular in Taiwan and used to be one of my favorite desserts. My aunt brought these over from Chicago during Thanksgiving break. She knows some lady that will make these in her home and sell them custom ordered.

The outside is flaky while the inside is this gooey sweet stuff. Some web search on recipes revealed that the filling in the middle is partially made from winter melon. It’s supposed to be sweet and not overly intense in the winter melon taste. These ones from Chicago weren’t that sweet so they could have been better. Here in the bakeries in Chinatown, these things are known as winter melon cakes and the winter melon taste is usually way too strong and you get sick of it after two bites. If I ever find a good one in NY, I will definitely let everyone know.

While you can find wife cakes fairly easily, finding mung bean cakes is pretty much impossible. These things also have a flaky outside, but it’s not flaky as you pie lovers understand. It’s not buttery and flaky, it’s just flaky. The outside is also white and kinda light.

Inside is filled with this mung bean paste. I hesitate to call it a paste because that doesn’t accurately describe the texture. Like the wife cake, the innards are supposed to be subtle in flavor and not too over-powering. I actually never remember seeing these things back in Taiwan so the likelihood of finding these in NY is probably very small. Maybe there’s a bakery in Flushing that will have this but I really doubt it.

There are a lot of good eats out there that I think could do well in an American market. Sure, getting everyone to love tripe would be difficult, but pastries? It’s just a shame that in the midst of hiding certain foods, others also fall by the wayside. I know Chinese dessert is not the strong point in Chinese cuisine, but there are a lot of hidden gems that most people have not seen or eaten.

Posted by Danny on December 4, 2008 at 4:35 pm

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