Chinese bakeries are notorious for their “interesting” pastries. There are hot dogs wrapped in oily buns, breads in different colors meant to evoke all kinds of tastes… In fact, chicken, pork, and other meats are popular flavors of bread.
In Hong Kong today, I ran into “fried chicken biscuits”… …with pork in them. What do fried chicken biscuits taste like?
If writing about music is like dancing about architecture, the same can be said about writing about food. Nonetheless, I tried to write down the flavors I felt as I was eating them. This is what I got: “Chickeny with a doughy flavor… Cinnamony… Sweet…”
I’m not sure it actually tasted like chicken (anymore than snake “tastes like chicken” the first time you eat it). The chicken taste was probably just a placebo effect.
In fact, pork is listed as an ingredient before chicken. Chicken powder is used, but it is a sub ingredient within the ingredients of the flavoring used. The biscuits were sweet and cinnamony indeed. Five spice powder (including cinnamon) is one of the ingredients.
Fried chicken biscuits, also known as “small phoenix biscuits” (小凤饼) are a local food of Guangdong. On Chinese language Wikipedia, a servant girl named Small Phoenix, who worked for businessman and author Wu Ziyuan (伍紫垣) in the mid 1800’s, is credited with creating them. According to the creation stories cited, it was around Mid-Autumn Festival when Small Phoenix was called upon to make dim sum for guests, but the house didn’t have many ingredients, so she put together some moon cake ingredients and cooked pork cookies. People in Guangdong call chickens phoenixes in poetic speech, so the name of the cakes eventually transformed from Small Phoenix biscuits to chicken biscuits (鸡仔饼).
Barbecue chicken biscuits are far from the strangest item in a Chinese bakery. Here are some of the ones that I haven’t even tried:
Cuttlefish Smoked Chicken Bread
Two seemingly unrelated flavors in one: cuttlefish flavor with chicken flavored strings of meat floss. (Meat floss, 肉松, is a dried meat product that tastes kind of like meaty cotton candy.) This creation is available at the popular chain 85 Degrees.
Some Chinese people find it strange, too, but surprisingly delicious, according to a review posted to Dianping:
I only like their cuttlefish smoked chicken bread. I can never eat enough of this, I buy it every time I go. I have no interest in trying something else.
With its black black bread, I originally just bought it out of curiosity. I never expected that as I bit in, progressively through each of the layers, the taste would be so rich. Simply put, it is like a symphony was playing music in my mouth.
There is crunchy stuff, and also spicy meat floss. There is a creamy salad texture and also a silky bread texture. So many textures and many flavors, it is very clever.
I don’t know who invented this kind of bread. In a word, it is very creative, very tasty, and it greatly surpasses bread itself.
Hot Dog Pastries
Hot dogs are ever present in Chinese snack food, and are added to pastries at bakeries. As Wade Shepard of Vagabond Journey describes these “hot dog pastries,”
It wasn’t that the idea of a hot dog encased in baked, bread-like wrappings that got to me — add a little ketchup, onions, eat while fresh, that could be good. No, it was just the fact that they looked absolutely hideous. Invariably, they are served at room temperature after sitting out on a shelf for hours (or even days). There was something about these hot dog pastries that just looked necrotic. They were old, cold, and wrinkly — adjectives perhaps better suited to describe the shelved residents of a morgue, and they looked about as tasty.
In the end, he ended up liking them. I’ll just have to trust him.