Monday, January 14, 2013

The Taste of Memories: Chinese Bakeries

Approximately 2-3 times per year (sometimes more, sometimes less), my family makes the 3-hour drive up to Vancouver, B.C. to ... eat. Yes, if you haven't cottoned on already, food is a huge part of my life and was an even bigger part of my upbringing. We obsess about what we're going to eat, when, where, and, when in Vancouver, tend to make reservations for dinner at the lunch table. True story.

We may be frugal about other purchases in life, but not when it comes to food. My dad, for example, had no qualms about spending $154 on a geoduck dish (yes, one dish) at a recent dinner out in Richmond. And before we leave for the Washington State border, my mom makes sure to stop by the Chinese bakery in one of Richmond's many Chinese shopping malls to buy several bags (which must be ordered the day before) of raisin bread, which is just like the kind they make in Hong Kong.

While we were there this past Christmas, I snapped these pics to remind myself what sets Chinese bakeries apart from any other bakery in the "Western" world:

Chinese cakes are almost always topped with fresh fruit, and the sponge is lighter in texture and flavor in comparison to "Western" cakes, if you will. There's a photo of me at home on my first birthday, fork poised mid-air over a cake elaborately decorated with fresh strawberries and white frosting that my dad had purchased from a Chinese bakery in Seattle. Aside from looking absolutely delighted at so much fanfare and fuss, I note that my mother has dressed me to match the cake: in a frilly red and white dress.

Then there are the egg custard tarts (below, center), which were also a childhood favorite of mine:

They always remind me of my beloved grandpa (on my mother's side), who passed away a few years ago, because he used to order them for me whenever we went out for dim sum in San Francisco (where he and my grandma had a second home). I remember playing a rhyming game with him on our way in to town and making him laugh with a short limerick in Cantonese about taking the BART to eat "dan tart" (egg custard tart in Cantonese).

During this same trip to Vancouver, I squealed with joy when I discovered a Taiwanese candy shop selling Sugus, a soft, chewy candy reminiscent of Starbursts, which were ubiquitous to my childhood my trips to Hong Kong. My mom would keep them in her purse to reward me and my brother for our patience or good behavior during long car rides or visits with relatives that dragged on a bit longer than a child of five could usually bear.

So, I - like so many others - associate food (and in particular, cakes and sweets), with terrific childhood memories. These tastes and flavors help me transcend continents and time, to a place where all I knew and felt was happiness and love.

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