Chinatown is chock full of bakeries. Most of the bakeries fall into two categories they are either a) old school style cha chaan teng (茶餐廳, cha can ting, literally “tea restaurant”) that serve various old school Cantonese buns and pastries or b) more modern bakeries that have all types of pastries, buns and crazy cakes shaped into cartoon characters. For example, Mei Li Wah would fall under the cha chaan teng category and Fay Da / Tai Pan would fall under the latter category. Generally, the quality can vary from pretty decent to just okay. It is sort of hard to tell which ones will be good and which ones will just so so because they really all look very similar.
Ka Wah is a throwback and is closer to being in the cha chaan teng category. It is an old school Cantonese bakery that is in the eastern part of Chinatown jammed in the middle of a completely Fujian neighborhood. Based on that fact and the décor, I think this bakery must be very old. It’s run by 3 old Cantonese ladies, who are pretty old school themselves. Sometimes I have a hard time understanding their Mandarin because they have such a thick Cantonese accent.
Unlike most bakeries in Chinatown, this place only serves maybe 8-10 different types of pastries and maybe 4-5 different types of buns. All of it is Cantonese classics: dan ta (egg custard), dan gao (sponge cake), lao po bing (wife cake, a pastry filled with a sweet winter melon filling), almond cookies, ji wei bao (cocktail bun), bo luo bao (pineapple bun) and a few other things. They also serve good yin yang cha (yuan yang cha, coffee and tea mixed with evaporated milk and sugar), nai cha (tea with condensed milk) and coffee.
I come here on the weekends usually fairly early around 10:30am-11am when the pastries are fresh (they taste better in the morning when they are fresher).
Here are some of the things I get:
Sponge Cake (Dan Gao):
This place probably has the best sponge cake I’ve had in Chinatown. The cake is very light and airy with a great egg-y flavor and it’s soft as a pillow. I really like these and they are so light you can eat them like they were nothing and they go great with some yin yang cha. As a word of advice these in particular taste much better in the morning when they are fresh. 8.5/10
Wife Cake (Lao Po Bing):
They make a good version here. The crust is nice and flaky and the inside is flavorful and not overly sweet. However, this is an old school type of pastry and it’s very Chinese, so I’m not sure everyone will like this. My GF thinks that its “old people food” and she doesn’t like it at all. She also says I like “old people food” when it comes to desserts, so this is the type of thing I like, but I’m sure there will be a decent amount of people who do not. 7.75/10
Egg Custard (Dan Ta):
Hands down the best dan ta in Chinatown. The crust is flaky, crispy and buttery without being overly buttery. The custard is nice and egg-y and not overly sweet. They sell both the small versions and large version. I prefer the small version as I like the ratio of custard to crust better. These are great. 8/10
I always forget what this is called in Chinese. I’m not totally sure why I always end getting these because I don’t love them and it’s not the version here just in general. I guess it’s a nostalgia thing because I grew up eating stuff like this. Anyhow, the version here is good. 7/10
I forgot to take pictures, but these guys make some of the best yin yang cha (yuan yang cha, coffee and tea mixed with evaporated milk and sugar) and nai cha (tea with condensed milk) in Chinatown. I always get a cup of it when I come here. 7.75/10
Overall, this place is great and I highly recommend coming here before they decide to retire or something. It is also ridiculously cheap. Highly recommend.
9 Eldridge Street
New York, NY 10002