Romanticizing either one’s own culture or another culture, can be as simple as introducing a foreign food dish, which becomes wildly popular over time. Popular, because not only the dish tastes great, but the consumer purchases and enjoys the dish as partaking in a refined, higher class or more worldly expression of their personal taste.
Before you jump on me for being critical or elitist, especially for preparing your treasured family heirloom recipes, sit down and have a café with me. Hear me out.
Asian Crazes: European Gourmet Desserts
Traditional Asian cuisine is not known for baked elegant desserts at all. Whatever desserts offered now in Asian bakeries, are an influence of a country’s European colonial past (ie. egg tarts in Macau are a Portuguese legacy; Filipino pastries, a Spanish adaptation) or simply a local baker, restauranteur who loved European desserts and understood their patrons’ need to end a meal with a sweet, elegant flourish.
Last autumn, Jack sampled both Asian street food and some gourmet European cake slices when he was in Taipei, Tawain and in South Korea on business trips. On both occasions, he found the bakery cafes when he wandered around in the cities’ core shopping areas.
The cakes were quite good which is a compliment from someone raised by a German mother. His mother loved preparing elegant multi-layered cake tortes, linzertorte (hazelnut tart with raspberry almond filling), plum kuchens and wonderful cookies by using traditional techniques. Not surprisingly his maternal line, has pastry chefs and restauranteurs back to the 1700’s.
Former Chinatown Desserts: Chiffon and Sponge Cake-like Creations
Over 25 years ago, the few Asian bakeries that I knew in Canadian Chinatowns, offered very limited desserts that were primarily egg or coconut tarts, buns filled with whipping crème, and savoury fillings such was ham, barbecued pork or even (gasp), wieners. The cake and bun crumb tended to be primarily sponge or chiffon cake-like textures –safe, bland, simple ingredients and not too sweet for Asian palates. Strangely, I never saw muffins nor pies in those bakeries at that time.
Now, in bigger Canadian cities, Vancouver and Toronto, there are more Asian bakeries and large Asian supermarkets that will offer a bit more –such as mousse cakes and fruit tartlets along side the egg custard tarts and savoury buns. I’m not sure how many have jumped onto the phyllo pastry bandwagon but it’s just a matter of time: phyllo pastry is so easy to work with and bakes quickly.
The greatest compliment for adopting a foreign dish, occurs when a chef or baker embraces traditional techniques, transforms the dish into several different unique variations and creates a business that garners fans.
Ganache Patisserie, a gourmet cake bakery café in the hip Yaletown, Vancouver BC offers walk-in customers a fabulous range of different elegant cake slices and if needed, customized wedding cakes. The pastry chef is Henry Hwang who picked up his skills in France.
Meanwhile in prairie city of Calgary, brothers Mario and Ignas Adiwibawa from Indonesia, launched their crème puff bakery , Cruffs two years ago in the trendy Mission area. Mario, the baker added more baking skills to his culinary arsenal after attending a culinary school in Vancouver.
Previously he ran a bakery for 4 years in Indonesia. They offer their crème puffs with choice fillings which include: Irish Crème Baileys, pistachio, hazelnut chocolate, mango, lemon and green tea. Recently they offered a blueberry creme puff.
In 2012 they are venturing into a version of an Indonesian pastry, roti, a Dutch colonial by product. Their Indonesian coffee based roti, will be rebranded with a different name to avoid confusion with Caribbean and South Asian spicy curry savoury rotis stuffed with sauce, veggies or meat.
For those whose cultural heritage includes these fine dessert inspirations, it is simply a wonderful memory and casual touchstone to enjoy a dessert well executed even if the chef came from a country located far from the dessert’s origins.
Stay tuned for romanticizing a culture feature of the East by the West.