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Melanie Wong | Jun 14, 202110:11 AM    

This year, today, June 14, is Dragon Boat Festival. 'Tis the season for consuming zongzi (aka joong), the tamal-like parcels of stuffed sticky rice wrapped and steamed in bamboo leaves. A month ago I checked out icafe bakery in Chinatown that makes some special types.

It's been on my radar for ages, but took this long to finally snag a nearby parking space to check out this bakery-cafe for the first time. icafe took over the legendary Wonder Bakery’s location a few years ago. It was top of mind because I’d read a sympathetic profile of the owner, Hanna Zhang. https://www.nbcbayarea.com/news/local... Inside, Chinatown luminaries, Sam Yu, the retired founder of Yuet Lee and Bill Lee, managing partner of Far East Cafe, were seated having morning coffee and pastries together. I commented to the owner, working alone behind the counter, that she had VIP customers. She giggled and said she calls them her "special uncles".

Zhang walked me through the offerings in the case. She added a football-shaped dark brown raisin roll to my bag as a bonus for being a first time customer. I paid for my to-go purchases in cash and made a quick exit. Back at my car, the proprietor of a neighboring biz asked me if I’d read the story. I nodded, then he said it was lies and proceeded to criticize the bakery owner. So Chinatown!

Anyway, about the food . . . the purple glutinous rice zongzi turned out to be the one item that I'd buy again. At $5.80 apiece, the price was quite a bit higher and the size a little smaller than others produce around town. This had less rice but more filling. A sliver of salted duck egg yolk, lop cheong, dried shrimp, peanuts or mung beans, dried scallop, lotus seeds and lop yuk dominated the rice portion. I found myself wishing there were more of the sticky rice element to enjoy. Instead of using fatback, these include Cantonese dried bacon or lop yuk that lends more flavor, but does not render the same amount of porcine fat to lend a glossy sheen and smooth texture to the rice. Though the rice was a bit firm and under cooked, it had a special nutty fragrance and flavor that was beguiling, and next time I'll steam these extra long to reheat. One made with white glutinous rice was somewhat over steamed with mushy grains. Still, both were very tasty.

A paucity of cha siu and too much goopy cornstarch in the filling of the baked pork bun, the adulterated gelatinous texture of the egg custard of the dan tat, and the heavy crumb of the raisin roll kept me from liking these more. The most disappointing was the pineapple bun, since the bakery was said to have the late Wonder Bakery's recipe for its signature bun. Lacking the cloud-like airy lightness of Wonder's or abundance of crackly sugar crusting and about half the size, this pineapple bun is below average in the City's offerings.

icafe is known for its fruit-flavored mochi, only making them on certain days, so I missed out. Still, there are many other things to choose from in the bakery case that might be better bets than my sampling. What are your favorites here?

icafe bakery
133 Waverly Place
San Franciso, CA
(415) 391-8088
Closed Tuesdays
https://www.icafebakery.com/

icafe Bakery
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