Monday, February 13, 2012

Boston Chinatown: Bao Bao Bakery is the Happy Place

Bao Bao did two astounding things: it took me straight to Kowloon and it converted me to bubble tea. For this alone, I can recommend it as the first bakery you should go to in Boston’s Chinatown.

Behind the counter are a phalanx of bakery goddesses, cracking jokes in Cantonese but very happy to help a gaijin visitor who can only point at the goodies and make hand gestures. I highly suspect that they were, among other things, making a wry commentary on my personage, although having failed to learn more than three words of Cantonese, I can’t prove it. But that’s the feeling of Hong Kong I was missing: busy, crowded, and jovial. That’s the intangible fun of Bao Bao. That and the fact that there’s plenty of room to sit, a huge selection of little cakes, buns, savory pastries, bread, and full blown birthday cakes. The boxes are cute, the price is right, and you really find a sense of contentment in the busy shop, sitting at the counter with your cute cake, sipping bubble tea, watching a steady stream of characters go by.

And when I say cute cake, I’m really not kidding. Right in the door, I saw a tray of sprinkled sponge cakes with little frosting chicks sitting on top that are clearly labeled as “cute cakes” that made me feel a little swooney. You can’t find a piece of cake with that much charisma for $2.25 anywhere else in the city.

And while they have a section of perfectly respectable buns and dainties, go to the end of the cases and behold their decorated cakes.

You can argue that the cakes in Chinatown all taste vaguely similar, that the frosting is made of shortening, and the ingredients are not worthy of a French patisserie. But really, who cares? This kind of joy and exuberance is a payoff of its own. And make no mistake, Bao Bao is the only bakery in Chinatown making cakes this dang cute.  

I didn’t know I needed a cake frosted to look like a pouting puffer fish until I saw it. But now that I know it exists, I have to have it for my next birthday cake! 

Now, down to the bubble tea. It’s definitely an acquired taste. If you’re not careful, you’ll inadvertently inhale a truckload of tapioca balls. I initially just ordered a peach green tea from the huge tea menu, but the bakery goddess smiled and shouted encouragingly, “bubbles?” I was weak for the picking and nodded. The tea itself was wicked good, sweet and peachy with a jasminey green tea. With the first tapioca bubble that slithered into my mouth I started to think, “No way, I’m not eating this.” But after the second, and then the third, I found that having a sip of tea and then chewing on a soft little bubble of goodness was actually quite pleasant. By the time I was done with Bao Bao’s bubbles, I was thinking about how soon I could have another.   

Five bucks will buy you a venti something or other at Starbucks and not much else. I say take the fiver and head to Bao Bao for "cute cake" and bubble tea.

 Bao Bao Bakery 77 Harrison Avenue

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