Lina Lau was worried that the new Hong Kong Taste Bakery that had opened on Eden Quay was just a pop-up, she says.
The egg tarts, sausage buns and bo luo buns that she loved to eat back home aren’t widely available in Dublin, she says. She’d fly to London partly to eat Hong Kongese baked goods, she says.
“I really miss Hong Kong food.” she said on Friday, perched on the edge of one of the bakery’s breakfast stools. “I feel like I’m in my hometown, especially since with Covid I cannot go back to my home.”
To make sure the bakery stayed open, she volunteered to run their social media and promotions, so word would spread and more people would visit it.
Anything to keep them open, she says. “I just don’t want them to suddenly close!”
Hong Kong Taste Bakery opened on 28 February.
It’s owned by Chef King Liu, who spent his savings setting up the shop, says Lau. She stands attentive to Liu in the centre of the bakery, as the chef, in his white coat and hat, recalls its beginnings.
He wanted to make sure people like Lau didn’t have to travel to the UK – or further – to eat Hong Kong food, she says.
“He wanted to open a small shop, to fulfill his dream,” she says, translating for Liu, who stands at the bubble-tea counter, listening patiently to her interpretation.
She turns towards the door as two customers enter.
Leon Liu, a customer, lifts four heavy white plastic bags full of baked goods from the counter.
He and his mother have travelled into the city to come to the bakery, as they do most weeks, he says.
They carry two big bags each. “Some of them are for my friends and relatives around the city,” he says. Before bussing back to Lucan, they’ll deliver them around.
You can get some pastries in Chinese restaurants, he says, but the bakery has more choice. “I find the taste is like Hong Kong as well. It’s excellent.”
Customers have to pre-book for a big order, says Lau, or else the bakery would run out of stock for other customers.
On Saturdays, their busiest day, there is a queue out the door. “Everything would be sold out and people will be just waiting,” she says.
All the food is fresh, she says. “No bun is more than one hour sitting here.” If they run out, customers don’t have to wait long for the buns to be replenished, she says.
“People always come in and say ‘Oh! There’s no more!’ We say, ‘Don’t worry, we’re making it, just wait,’” says Lau.
The bakers wake up at 5am for the bakery to open at 12pm. “We are constantly working. That’s the whole spirit of Hong Kong,” she says.
The team have little time to rest for lunch, she says. “That’s life in the bakery. Compared to other bigger shops, the only difference is we don’t rest.”
The egg tart is Lau’s favourite pastry. “It reminds me of home,” she says, because her mother would buy it for her.
“On every street we have a bakery in Hong Kong,” she says. She tried to make an egg tart herself, but it didn’t taste good, she says.
Chef Liu talks through how the egg tart is made. It takes three hours to make a batch of egg tarts, from white flour, sugar, eggs, butter and oil, says Lau, relaying what she learns.
It’s made up of layers of round, flakey pastry, filled with a bright yellow egg custard.
“It’s one of the most difficult baked goods that we have to make. It’s super crispy,” she says.
The temperature has to be just right but it’s hard to control. “Because it’s liquid, right? You have to make sure it doesn’t taste too solid or too liquid,” she says.
“The chef says, ‘You have to use a lot of patience and heart to make it,’” she says.
Chef Liu tried repeatedly to get it exactly the same as it is in Hong Kong, she says, without going back for a tasting visit.
He used the same ingredients and method as he learned as a cook in his twenties, she says.
He’d get customers to try his latest batch, she says, and ask them if his recipe tasted the same egg tarts in Hong Kong.
Is the sweetness correct? Do you think that we have to change something else? He would say.
For a freshly made bun, Liu and Lau think Hong Kong Taste Bakery is one of the cheapest spots in the city, Lau says. “If you don’t know what to do with two euro, just come here.”
A line of customers has gathered, standing alongside the pastry shelves from the counter to the door.
Standing aside, Lau points out a customer who walked into the shop and immediately took an egg tart with a pair of tongs.
“It’s typical Hong Kong people we can actually notice. He doesn’t need to think because he knows what he wants,” she says with a laugh.
Chef Liu asks his customers what other Hong Kongese pastries he should be making, says Lau, to expand what’s on offer.
People come in with requests and they make them up, she says. Kids love the pandan swiss rolls, and the sausage buns are the perfect lunch.
The coconut cream buns are a hit with people from Ireland, says Lau. “We don’t know why. You have to tell us!”
Liu is also thinking of the future, says Lau. He’s getting worried that his pastry technique won’t live on.
“He’s 61 years old. If he loses his technique, no one would use it any more,” says Lau.
So he’d like to start a school, she says, and Liu nods beside her, hands folded humbly in front of him.
“He wants to give his skill set to all the people who love Hong Kong bakery,” she says, “then they can learn about it and open their shop in the future.”