Get your fix of old-school tarts, biscuits and cakes at some of the last-standing Chinese bakeries in town.
At Sin Hua Bee, it’s common to witness elderly workers roll out pastry on flour-dusted counters, or pulling out trays of freshly baked biscuits to cool. The leisurely pace at this humble bakery coupled with the faint aroma of green bean paste are reminiscent of a simpler time, when getting y our biscuits packed in plastic bound by string was a routine.
Sin Hua Bee may have little foot traffic but a visit here makes it clear that this 60-odd-year-old family business has a steady flow of regulars. Most of them pack up the (remarkably fresh) tau sar piah, tender pastry filled with mung bean paste, and hiong piah, thick, flaky pastry filled with a sticky-sweet filling of maltose and onions.
But to know Sin Hua Bee is to know that it’s famous for Chinese wedding biscuits; these pink-hued biscuits are just some of the customary gifts from a groom’s family to the bride’s before a wedding. Here, they make them on order, which reflects in the freshness of the red bean filling. Each biscuit is about the size of a tennis ball, and because the bean paste has a lightly whipped consistency, they’re easy to consume.
Unless you’re a regular, the (seemingly jaded) proprietors at Sin Hua Bee may not appear too bothered to enlighten you about the biscuits on offer. But the prospect of fresh, warm biscuits for tea easily compensates for the grouchiness.
This 18-year-old charmer in PJ doesn’t lie about the joy it implies in its name. The moment you step through the wooden doors, the unmistakeable aroma of butter can brighten up even the darkest of days. Owned by siblings Joy, Joyce, Margaret and Jack Tan (their elder sibling used to run Angel Cake House), Bakeri Joy is all heart. Brought up in Kluang, the family inherited their knack of baking and cooking from their mother.
‘All we want to do is maintain our Hainanese heritage so the younger generation can enjoy the food,’ Joy says. She also stresses that the friendly service and casual ambience is essential to make people feel at home. ‘We get a lot of regular housewives who come in the evening for tea before they have to go home and cook dinner for their families,’ Joyce chips in.
The range of butter cakes here is quite a sight – they’re served warm and cut in thick rectangles. Unlike the oilier, heavier Malaysian-style butter cakes, the siblings prefer theirs springy and light. The marble cake is a favourite of ours; the cocoa used may not be of the best quality, but there’s something so deeply comforting about a slice paired with a cup of Hainan tea. We’re also fans of the coconut tarts, kaya puffs and crackly peanut cookies – all the better if they’re picked straight from the cooling racks.
Even on a weekday, hordes of egg tart fanatics queue at this modest stall for a chance at a delicious perk-me-up. They huddle around the display of fresh-out-of- the-oven tarts and shout their orders to owner Wong Kok Tong, who exhaustively manages every request with a smile. Every day, almost 800 tarts fly off the trays. Kok Tong’s wife assembles the tarts at home before they’re carried over to the stall for baking.
This enviable husband-and-wife synergy results in some of the best egg tarts you’ll find in KL – the pastry is incredibly flaky and the creamy egg filling, when warm, jiggles with the threat of falling apart. But it miraculously holds up within the shell. The filling is made simply with egg, sugar and water, while the crust is held together by the power of pork lard. The lack of shortening as a tenderiser back in the day is a reason many Chinese bakeries resort to lard, and at Bunn Choon, they maintain the tradition.
Kok Tong is a fourth generation owner of the business, which started out in 1893 as a Chinese teahouse in Petaling Street. His grandfather then expanded the business into a dim sum joint and bakery where charcoal ovens were the only option. These days, there are electric ovens but the egg tart recipe remains unchanged. However, to keep up with trends, Kok Tong introduced charcoal black sesame and green tea versions. Pineapple tarts, kaya rolls and Chinese wedding biscuits are also available, but really, the egg tarts are more than you’ll ever need.
This inconspicuous bakery in Taman Muda is really quite tiny. There’s barely room for five people to move about, and if you’re waiting for a fresh batch of tarts to emerge from the oven, it means having to jostle between customers for a good ten minutes. But the wait is worth it.
The crown jewels at this 19-year-old shop are the mini egg tarts, whose moulds are filled with runny pale yellow filling right before your eyes. When their time in the oven is up, the pastry puffs up gloriously to showcase its multiple layers, and the not-too-sweet egg filling is just set. Because the tarts are doll-sized, you’ll find yourself popping them with ease – a dangerous prospect around the 4pm mark. (We speak from experience.) Other items include baked char siew baos and coconut tarts, but the mini egg tarts definitely steal the show.
Walking into this 1942 institution is like getting sucked into a time warp. There’s a sense of drowsiness that envelops this non-descript shop, and oftentimes, you’re the only customer enclosed by stacks of biscuit tins and jars. Owner Peter Boo sits on a plastic chair, watching over the lull of the shop like a hawk, answering any of your questions with as much excitement as a guard at Buckingham Palace. Like clockwork, he retreats to the back of the shop around 2pm everyday for a nap, leaving a friendly Indonesian lady to momentarily take charge.
If not for Peter, we’re regulars of this shop for the sheer variety of the biscuits on offer – the kind that you used to buy from the pasar malam as a kid. There are lemon creams, (startlingly tender) butter cookies, chocolate sandwiches, sugar-crusted crackers, coconut melts and those colourful icing-topped drop cookies that once dominated our childhood.
The small space fits more than a hundred kinds of biscuits astonishingly well, most of which are sourced from factories around the country. Biscuits are weighed and priced accordingly, but a kilo of biscuits won’t cost you upwards of RM10, which is surely the wisest option when having friends over for tea.
This decade-old corner shop attracts crowds for their baked durian specialities in the form of freshly baked tarts, puffs and butter cakes. The taufu cake, walnut tarts and banana loaves are also popular, all of which are baked daily in a central kitchen down the road from the bakery.
Petaling Street may be filled with overpriced pastries and cakes, but you won’t feel ripped off at Madam Chong’s mobile cart. Her homemade kaya rolls are incredibly light, and filled with just the right amount of sweet coconut jam. Don’t make the mistake of buying a single slice; go for an entire roll.
There’s a reason Fung Wong is one of KL’s most widely known biscuit shops. They sell a range of old-school snacks like charcoaltoasted egg cakes, wife biscuits, walnut cookies, peanut candy, salted egg tarts and kong so biscuits. The shop is undergoing renovation at the moment, but will reopen at the end of June.