Years ago, when I first came to China, I walked into a bakery expecting to be totally surprised, but was terribly disappointed. There were only competently made variations of what you would find in a bakery across the world. I couldn’t believe it; so much of Chinese food is surprising and wonderful, why couldn’t bakeries deliver the same level of surprise? I still can’t believe it. After a decade I still can’t pass a bakery or a sweet shop without looking in to see whether there is a surprise waiting. Some of the stuff one sees now is a visual surprise, like the baked cats in the featured photo.
But many bakeries remain completely predictable, like the one you see in this photo. The Family and I were happy to sit down in this bakery in Haizhu district for a coffee and a cake (more of a late afternoon tea, actually), but there was no surprise other than the wonderful competence of the master baker. I’m beginning to get used to the idea that there are people in China who dedicate years of their life to perfecting a technique, whether it is baking or calligraphy. This kind of obsessive attention to detail was something I’d come to expect in Japan long back; now I’m seeing a blooming of the same excellence in China. It is a pleasure to bite into a slice of chocolate cake and forget for a moment that you are not in Vienna. Predictable, yes, but in a good way.
There are other places, now less fashionable, where I can still expect to be surprised. Walking about in Liwan district, I ducked into a crowded shop to look at the display of moon cakes. I call them moon cakes, but they aren’t really; it’s just that I don’t know the correct name for these traditional pastries. The fillings can be surprising. The Family and I could not agree on which one to try, so we packed two of each. It wasn’t a bad idea. We got to eat them all through the next day. Window shopping at bakeries is dangerous, you could gain weight.