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Food can be a homecoming.
A bite of home cooking can be a momentary portal to a place of comfort and familiarity. Even if one can’t actually return home in the thick of the semester, there’s nothing better than a dish that smells and tastes like home.
Often, that home cannot be found at Harvard. The Chinese food at Annenberg Hall — the freshman dining hall at Harvard — is acceptable at best and dismal at worst. Improvements have been made in the form of the occasional potsticker day, yet this does not erase traumatic memories of Berg “fried” rice (aka raw kernels slathered in soy sauce).
Left to seek other methods of reconnecting with one’s heritage, Chinatown’s bakeries provide a suitable alternative. Self-care is important, and a warm egg tart or fresh baked pineapple bun can bring a spot of joy into everyday life. Visiting these bakeries also provides a welcome yet accessible way to get outside of the Harvard bubble: Chinatown is a mere 20 minute T ride away.
With AAPI month fast approaching, Asians and allies alike should take this chance to connect with — and learn about — Asian culture through food. Read on to find out which Chinatown bakery comes out on top!
3. Corner Cafe Bakery
Positioned prominently at an intersection of the busy Harrison Avenue of Chinatown, the Corner Cafe Bakery is located in a prime spot for roping in curious tourists.
In terms of atmosphere, Corner Bakery Cafe has a more polished, commercialized feel. All products are neatly packaged in plastic and tidily arranged on the shelves. The floor is carefully swept, the shelves dominated by classics like pork buns and carefully scored pineapple buns.
Overall, this bakery can be described as typical. The emphasis on polish is impressive, but aside from its Asian offerings, feels like a Paris Baguette dupe — the typical mom-and-pop appeal of Asian bakeries is masked by the sanitized atmosphere. Though there’s nothing wrong with sticking with the classics, this bakery’s pastry selection also seems to pander to an unfamiliar, Western audience that may find their offerings more palatable. All in all, this bakery may be an ideal place for tourists, but not the most authentic way to experience Chinese pastries.
2. Ho Yuen Bakery
Ho Yuen Bakery is quite literally a hole in the wall. Although the overhead sign announces its existence, the door is difficult to find in the midst of packed buildings, and the single display window is eternally foggy. Trays of pastries remain stacked in the middle of the floor, and all of the goods are crammed together into a single display case at the cash register.
These details are meant to recommend it — the small, unassuming bakery rewards those who dare to venture in with delicious pineapple buns with crumbly, imperfect toppings and more niche Chinese favorites like savory turnip cakes. Aesthetics are less of a focus for this bakery, yet the taste more than makes up for it. Although this bakery is perhaps less approachable for first-time visitors, it will undoubtedly become a fast favorite.
1. Taiwan Bakery
Taiwan Bakery is the best of both worlds, with beginner friendly favorites interspersed with Asian household staples. Like Ho Yuen, it is a street-side location, and yet, the display window is filled with gleaming, golden pastries. It specializes in moon cakes of all kinds, though their classic buns are also delicious. Pork floss buns, which may appear daunting to a newcomer, are sold alongside Western-adapted cream buns. Each sign is handwritten in both English and Chinese characters; although the English translations are imperfect, they may uniquely appeal to Asian-Americans looking to finally learn the names of their childhood favorites.
In this way, Taiwan Bakery is the Platonic ideal of a Chinese bakery for beginners and experienced visitors alike: specialty goods, a broad appeal to many audiences, and an authentic feel that makes customers — especially AAPI ones — immediately feel at home. Though it is difficult for a bakery to cater to every customer, it succeeds at striking the balance. For those who haven’t yet found their favorite Chinese pastries and baked goods, it may be wise to begin one’s exploration here.
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