There’s a little bakery a block away from my apartment in Hong Kong, which over the last few weeks has become mine in a way a bakery on another side of the world once became mine as well. I’m talking about Bonjour Bakery on High Street and I’m talking about Las Calas on Montevideo y Libertador. What do they have in common? A modest but always fresh selection of both sweet and savory baked goods at ridiculously low prices. Comfortable proximity. The possibility of popping in hungover, wearing pijamas. A very unfortunate and often quite brutal CLOSED/CERRADO/關閉 sign hanging in the door on Sundays (Saturday nights sins not soothed here, only Friday’s and Thursday’s…) Differences? One of them offers sit down espessos and the other funky Thai iced coffee in a can. One of them specialized in green tea cakes, the other in dulce de leche filled medialunas and palmeritas. Pesos vs HKD but the prices are pretty much the same. 1 USD per good, a little more if it contains a protein (jamon, carne, pollo in empanadas / BBQ pork, tuna, roast beef in buns), a little less if it is not filled at all. My roommate discovered it recently and since then I’ve been a regular. I’ve stopped going to the 711 for anything besides beer. This is my go-to breakfast and mid-day snack spot.
Chocolate Milk Bun. This is my breakfast pretty much every morning now, whether consumed at home or taken to the office to eat with my office-coffee. The bun is coated by a firm, crunchy cap which is scattered with chocolate jimmies, giving it a mild but not too overpowering chocolate flavor. The inside is heavenly soft and airy like a pillow. VERY slightly sweet and otherwise pretty yeasty in flavor. I’ve heard that these are delicious toasted with a bit of butter and condensed milk poured on top. I shall try this version soon to see.
Roast Beef Bun. The perfect midday snack. A delicious feather pillow bun very slightly browned on the outside with a generously thick slice of pastrami on the inside. The pastrami stays cool and firm and has a wonderfully seasoned black pepper, coriander, garlic flavor to it. It’s like a humble version of a pastrami sandwich, understated, light, with only the flavor of the seasoned meat and not the dense, moist texture of it. A bit of dry herb sprinkled on top of the bun echoes the meat’s herb crust within. Pretty and delicious.
Lemon Cookies, Almond Cookies. Again, simple and elegant. Incredibly buttery and flaky, crunchy and flavorful. The lemon cookies are crisp, a tart lemon butter cream on the inside waking up the mouth with its sharp tang, while the velvety smooth texture soothes it over. The biscuits themselves are very pretty and have a subtle lemon flavor to them which mixes with the underlying vanilla bean shade nicely. The almond cookies are great too – simple, crumbly, buttery with slices of toasted almond running through, giving the cookie a comforting, toasty nuttiness.
Ladies and gentleman, the Pork Floss Bun. This one definitely goes down in the books as my number one. The bun itself is beautifully fresh every morning, doughy, soft, virginally white, moist and very slightly sweet. The top has a beautiful, slightly browned sugar lattice crust, no doubt glossin’ from an egg-wash and this gives the pastry as a whole a slightly deeper, toasty sweetness and a crumbly texture to go along with the pillowy airiness of the rest of it. What lurks on the inside is a generous portion of dry, super salty pork floss which has the texture of thick, fluffy cotton candy and the flavor of pork rinds seasoned with soy sauce. A wonderful combination with the almost neutral flavor of the dough and the sticky sugariness of the crust, a perfect treat for breakfast lunch or dinner. And at 1 USD, truly a great value as well.
Chestnut French Bun. A flat, soft bun with a nice, smooth and firm outside and a wonderful, pillowy light, fluffy interior. The stuffing in this case is slightly sweet roasted chestnut puree, which has a velvety smooth consistency (with just a few bean-like bumps) and is thick, starchy and perfectly filling. The texture is similar to that of red bean paste (another popular baked good filling here in the Orient), while the flavor is nutty, oven-roasty-toasty and very comforting. A bit of of sweet clove and nutmeg is also mixed in there to bring out the natural sweetness of the nut. The toasted, slightly oily pumpkin seeds on the outside of the bun also harmonize wonderfully with the filling.
Cocktail Bun. This one is a popular one, a baked good native to Hong Kong. I did some research on it and found out that it was originally created in the 1950s when the owners of bakeries decided to reuse unsold day-old buns by grinding them up, mixing them with sugar and coconut and stuffing this mixture inside fresh bread dough. The name is a play on the comparison of this mixture to a bartender’s cocktail mixture. Since those times butter has also been added to the mixture to soften it a bit and give it a smooth, rich consistency. I love these. The bread is very soft, very subtly sweet and quite pretty with the slightly browned exterior and sesame seeds baked over the top. The filling is dense (no doubt from the ground day-old bun), sweet and buttery and reminds me a bit of the filling of an almond croissant, only with a more floral sweetness from the coconut instead of the toasty nutty sweetness of the almond paste. The lightness of the dough lifts makes up for the heaviness of the filling perfectly. A fantastic breakfast indeed!
Bake BBQ Pork Bun (Char Sui Bao), the plump little king of any Hong Kong style bakery, if you ask me. Dense, but soft and pillowy bun, nice and glossy from egg-wash over the top, with a slight bite to it. Inside – a filling of sweet, very tender and juicy slow-roasted pork tenderloin diced into little bite-sized cubes and flavored with a thick, starchy syrup of oyster sauce, hoisin, sesame oil, and soy sauce. Slightly salty, slightly sweet, with the texture of bœuf bourguignon – the beef falling apart into fibers when bitten into. I’ve had some pretty bad, overly sweet and overly glossy on the filling char sui bao‘s, but this one is delicious.
Red Bean, French. Don’t exactly know what makes the bread “french” as the name suggests, but I do not its enormously satisfying. A slightly flattened version of the same airy, slightly chewy, remarkably fresh white bread, browned lightly at the top and covered in white sesame seeds which toast up during the baking process, contributing a wonderfully nutty, oily and delicious flavor to the bread. The pouch is filled with a thick, starchy, very dense red bean paste which is slightly sweet in a roasted and caramelized root vegetable kind of natural way. Toasted up a bit in the oven or even warmed for 5 seconds in a microwave, this thing is a wonderful accompaniment to coffee at the office on a dreary Monday morning.
Tuna Bun – Not my favorite, especially for breakfast which is mainly what I go to Bonjour for, but not bad. The same pillowy soft, airy white bread bun with a bit of cheese baked crackling crispy over the top, filled with a soft, moist wad of flakey tuna minimally seasoned and retaining its fishy goodness. What I don’t like about this too much is that if you get it even 2-3 hours after it was baked, the excess fishy liquid from the tuna soaks into the bun, making the bread around it a bit soggy. And if this doesn’t happen, chances are the tuna filling is too dry to begin with. The trick is getting this thing RIGHT when the bakery opens and biting into one of these buns when the bun is still warm and the tuna inside still firm and retaining its moisture inside of the protein. In this case, it’s delicious