I had no idea that something so simple could be so hard to find. My search leads me to Chinatown and an unplanned food walk through Binondo.
Consider the egg tart: custard baked in a crust. The crust can run any permutation from flaky to cookie-like but that’s it. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t eaten one. So why, pray tell, is it so hard to find in Manila?
I’m running a fever today and whether that adage may be to “starve a cold, feed a fever” or the other way around, my sick body knows what it wants: egg tarts. So I rally my Chinese contacts, a group of entirely opinionated eaters who seriously know their Chinese food. But while rigidly held beliefs abound on which restaurant serves the better Peking duck while another place trumps all with its taro-crusted scallop nests, the group is eerily quiet regarding my question: Where, oh Chinese food gurus, might I find some egg tarts?
A lone text finally wriggles out: Lord Stow’s. Best egg tarts in Manila.
Er, not exactly. I want the Chinese-style egg tarts, those requisite sweet things that are plopped onto the table after a dimsum lunch. Regardless, I send out for a box of those Macau-style egg tarts and as I crunch my way through them, I surmise that perhaps a trip to Chinatown is in order.
On a very bright but not too early Sunday morning, my Bin and I are sitting in President Teahouse. An egg tart sighting at another table revs my excitement to fever pitch. The waiter approaches, and as is routine in a dimsum restaurant, all our favorite dishes roll off our tongues and onto the waiter’s notepad. Rapped off so quickly, they almost sound like one long name, “Taropuff-siopao-siomai-congee-asadopie-hakaw-Chinesetea-eggtart.”
Everything comes in quick order except for the dishes I desire most. The waiter ambles over and tells us that we just missed the last of the asado pie and egg tarts. An involuntary “Nooo!” escapes from the tortured depths of my egg tart-deprived soul. And then I feel heat – oh my god, are those tears?! – behind my eyes. (Good grief, the fever has completely addled my brain.) My Bin is absolutely flabbergasted at my reaction. I haven’t touched a single dumpling and now I won’t, either. I glare at the plates of siopao and siomai and bowl of congee looking innocently back up at me. “I didn’t come all this way to eat food I can get at Luk Yuen!” I grumble. My excitement has dissolved from its earlier fevered pitch into a pathetic pity pool.
So the never-endingly patient husband guides me, his psychotic-frantic wife to Golden Fortune Restaurant on Soler Street. I’ve got my copy of Ivan Man Dy’s excellent Big Binondo Food Wok map in hand, what I hope will turn out to be my compass to a plate of egg tarts. The restaurant’s glass window affords me a tantalizing view of a dimsum cart, little plates propped on mini steamer baskets all meant to dimsum (“touch the heart.”)
No egg tarts to be had here but the cheerful waiter makes our meal of cheong fun, ham sui kok, and crabstick roll very palatable. I can feel my fangs receding, feel myself becoming something close to normal again. On our way out, we ask the manager where we might get some egg tarts but even he is at a loss. Again I ask, why? Surely there are things more difficult than the acquisition of egg tarts.
Our last stop is at Wai Ying on Benavidez St., third place being the charm and all that. And YES! they do have egg tarts. Overbaked beyond belief such that the custard is actually somewhat chewy if you can believe it, but egg tarts nevertheless. I snarf down two in quick succession, not really liking them but just grateful for having found the closest I can get today to egg tarts. You’d think our stomachs would be launching full-scale resistance attacks on us by now, but that’s the purpose of strong, hot Chinese tea, to aid in the stomach’s lubrication and digestion. My Bin and I manage to put away a goodly portion of the roast duck, which is gloriously moist and fatty, together with some chicken pies and asado pies, the latter shaped into cute stars. My Bin also pronounces the shrimp cheong fun “outstanding.”
So what did we learn today? my Bin asks me as he steers the car home. Ever the rational, logical one of our partnership, he knows that today, while a trove of sufficiently delicious delights, wasn’t truly a success for me. We outline our findings:
1. Come early to President Teahouse to nab the asado pie and those egg tarts. (We thought 9.30 a.m. was early enough. Do Binondo restaurants only serve dimsum for breakfast?)
2. Golden Fortune has a soy sauce-garlic-chili dipping sauce that’s truly exceptional. And so is their cheong fun.
3. Wai Ying is a never-fail, spot-on, hits-all-the-bases Chinese short order place. (I’ve been to Wai Ying on several occasions but it’s a first for my Bin.)
If anybody out there reading this knows where I can get some egg tarts, please stick it in the comments. You’ll have my everlasting gratitude.
Will Walk For Food