A couple of foodies and I decided to embark on a mini culinary adventure of sorts – to find the city’s best Lau Sah Bao’s (please forgive the phonetic translation). These tasty little egg cream buns are a scarcity in the city, and what a shame that is. For those not that familiar with this little dim sum treasure I’ll take a few moments to describe it: it is similar to a lotus seed paste bun you would find at regular dim sum restaurants, however, the lotus seed paste is replaced by an egg custard. Because it is sweet, it is often considered a dessert course. Few places create this custard from scratch though, and many resort to using a powdered concoction. I have my suspicions about the origins of the following buns, but beggars cannot really be choosers. My love for these buns will force me to consume a bit of preservatives and colouring additives.
So the three foodies meet each other on Flickr and decide to meet up at a spot, each bearing buns. These are obviously desperate creatures like myself and in constant search for good food. Since I live closest to Dragon Dynasty and have spotted the aforementioned baked good on the menu and thought highly of it, I offer to pick those up. One member of the team lives close to Dynasty on Bloor and offers to bring a batch of those up. And finally, we pick a place to meet near the 3rd foodie’s place – Grand Chinese Cuisine – the last and final place I know that carries this sweet treat.
Fully aware that fresh out of the steamer buns will probably taste the best of the three; we take that into consideration during our taste test. All three were approximately the same in price, so we eliminated this factor as a deciding point as to which was best. My Dragon Dynasty buns were first up because they were purchased the earliest (about an hour before the test). They were still a bit warm. Inside, the custard was surprisingly still runny. The bun was the largest of the 3 offerings.
Dragon Dynasty’s version was very sweet (just the way I like it in fact). It had a nice grainy texture, just like a lau sah bao should have. I enjoyed this entry and found it a strong entry. One of the tasters noted that they could not consume more than 2 or so of these before they were saturated with sugar and fat. Since none of would probably eat that many lau sah bao’s in one sitting ever again, we decided that this would probably never become an issue. This bun was very fluffy and definitely had less than the rest. By now, Grand’s version was resting on our table – cooling.
Next up, Dynasty’s version of the tasty treat. This was the mid-sized bun. The custard was noticeably darker in colour. When tasted, the darker colour was quickly attributed to a heavier usage of ‘ham dan’, or salty preserved egg. This version was definitely less sweet and more savoury. It was less like a dessert, and more of a regular dim sum item. Two of us decided that this was probably the least favourite of the bunch because it was saltier and definitely not runny inside. The bun texture was also the chewiest of the three, which made it a bit unpleasant. The foodie that stated that too many of the sweet buns would make it rank lower said the opposite about this bun. If we had to each consume several of the buns, this bun would rank highest since it is less sweet. Acute observation, but if I had to eat more than one of these in a meal ever again, I would probably have a coronary.
Last up - the now cool Grand version. This was the smallest of the three buns. The runniness of the egg custard sat between the liquid interior of the Dragon Dynasty and the more gelatinous Dynasty version. The bun was slightly chewy and sweeter and was definitely a dessert-focused bun. (Since we proceeded to have dim sum afterward, it was noted that this bun texture and taste was different than the other buns consumed – namely the cha siu bao and the pumpkin bun). The saltiness level was in the middle and the sweetness ran also in the mid-range of the three. The custard amount was less than that of Dragon Dynasty as well, but more than Dynasty’s. This was a hard call because first place was very close between Dragon Dynasty and Grand’s version. This was the more ‘sophisticated’ choice because there was no sickeningly sweet, runny custard, but is that not why one orders these buns in the first place?
Side by side comparison: http://www.flickr.com/photos/bokchoi-...
After much humming and hawing, two of us decided that Dragon Dynasty’s was our favourite to satisfy an intense craving for Lau Sah Bao’s. When you want something sweet and runny, you go all the way we stated. One foodie decided to go the higher route and stick by Grand’s choice (not me, just so that no one things there’s a bias). It was a well balanced bun with great bun texture. We all agreed we enjoyed the bun texture and flavour of Grand’s best, but when it came to the custard, the other foodie and I wanted our senses to be bombarded.
After dessert, we all sat down and decided to have a real dim sum meal. It was the first time for one of the foodies and he proclaimed it was definitely one of the best, if not the best dim sum he has had in the city. The rest of us agreed that we were none too thrilled with either of the other two dim sum places (Dragon Dynasty, nor Dynasty - especially given Dynasty's prices). I guess in the end, it’s just not about the custard bun, but about the meal that starts it all off. If I had to get my buns during a meal, I guess I’ll take my chances at Grand. If I have a craving for just the bun – I’ll get myself a nice takeout box from Dragon Dynasty.
Hope this helps those of you out there with the same strange cravings for sweet dessert buns. If anyone knows of anywhere else we should test and add to the list, please let me know.
Hopefully I’ll get a chance to post up another taste test I’ve done recently. If only I had more time….
Cheers and Happy Eating!