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Your guide to traditional Hong Kong and Chinese pastries

By Localiiz 17 July 2019 | Last Updated 19 January 2024

Header image courtesy of GS417~commonswiki (via Wikimedia Commons)

Originally published by Doris Lam. Last updated by Celia Lee. 

Ever felt overwhelmed by the wide selection of sweet treats at Chinese pastry stores? From almond biscuits and wife cakes to chicken biscuits, here’s your guide to traditional Hong Kong and Chinese pastries so you will be able to shop confidently next time you find yourself standing in front of a populated pastry shelf.

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Photo: Naa Geish Yamtofaan (via Wikimedia Commons)

Almond biscuits (杏仁餅)

Made with ground apricot kernels, the Chinese almond biscuit known as heng yan beng (杏仁餅; hang6 jan4 beng2) is a Cantonese pastry that is popular in Hong Kong and Macau. The biscuit is crumbly, almost powdery when bitten, with little pieces of almond mixed into the batter to create extra texture. This fluffy treat is best paired with a cup of tea or coffee.

The Macau-based Koi Kei Bakery does the best almond biscuits, but unfortunately, its last shop in Hong Kong closed in summer 2023. If you don’t want to trek all the way to Macau, you can check out two traditional local brands: Wing Wah Cake Shop and Kee Wah Bakery, which does almond biscuits in gift sets that are perfect as souvenirs.

Koi Kei Bakery, locations in Macau

Wing Wah Cake Shop, locations across Hong Kong

Kee Wah Bakery, locations across Hong Kong

Photo: Michael Saechang (via Flickr)

Wife cakes (老婆餅)

Also known as a “sweetheart cake,” the wife cake (老婆餅; lou5 po4 beng2) pastry has a thin golden crust with a doughy and chewy filling of winter melon, almond paste, or sesame. The origin of the name is unclear, but a popular story tells the tale of a woman who sold herself to the landlord to pay rent. Her husband then started making and selling pastries with a winter melon filling to earn enough money and eventually bring his wife home, hence the name “wife cake.”

A five-time Michelin-recommended bakery, Kee Tsui Cake Shop in Mong Kok offers the best and fluffiest wife cakes in town.

Kee Tsui Cake Shop, G/F, 135 Fa Yuen Street, Mong Kok | (+852) 2394 1727

Photo: @feivouritefood (via Instagram)

Egg rolls (蛋卷)

Originating from Spain, egg rolls (蛋卷; daan2 gyun2) are a cookie-like pastry made with flour, sugar, egg whites, and butter. The mixture is rolled out thinly and shaped into a hollow cylinder. Traditionally, egg rolls come in one flavour—the “original” plain cookie taste. Nowadays, however, you can find them in all sorts of flavours such as coconut, coffee, seaweed, salted egg yolk, and more.

Duck Shing Ho has a long history of operating in the North Point neighbourhood. Starting out as a grocery shop selling household grains and cooking oil, the owners began selling homemade egg rolls in the 1960s when the rise of supermarkets drove out local grocers. Since then, Duck Shing Ho’s egg rolls have taken the city by storm with its crispy and fluffy texture and ever-innovative flavours. If you want to pay Duck Shing Ho a visit, be prepared to start queuing before opening time. Operating hours vary during the week, so call ahead to confirm and secure your tin of goods!

Duck Shing Ho, G/F, 64 Java Road, North Point | (+852) 2570 5529

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Photo: Zhu Fok Gam (via Wikimedia Commons)

Ma Jai (馬仔)

Ma jai (馬仔; maa5 zai2), also known as Chinese sweet crispies or sachima, is a traditional Manchu pastry made of flour, egg, butter, and rock sugar. The Cantonese version incorporates maltose for extra sweetness and stickiness, resulting in a chewier or crunchier texture depending on the maltose-to-sugar ratio. Once the dough is rolled out into thin layers, it is cut into tiny pieces and fried. The fried dough is then tossed in a mixture of melted sugar and maltose and the slab is left to cool down. Once cooled and cut, it becomes the ma jai we know and love. Due to this labour-intensive and time-consuming process, many have industrialised the ma jai-making process.

Shun Heung Yuan is one of the few remaining traditional bakeries in Hong Kong that still sells handmade ma jai. Its Fo Tan factory doubles as a shop, where customers can watch as freshly made goods are finished and packaged by the staff.

Shun Heung Yuan, Room B, 4/F, Universal Industrial Centre, 23–25 Shan Mei Street, Fo Tan | (+852) 2605 6181

Photo: Amber (via Flickr)

Pineapple cake (鳳梨酥)

So, technically not a Chinese pastry, pineapple cakes—or fung lei so (鳳梨酥; fung6 lei4 sou1)—are traditional Taiwanese pastries and a crowd-favourite as travel souvenirs. The crumbly pastry is made with butter, egg yolk, and sugar, and filled with a stringy pineapple jam. Nowadays, other flavours such as walnut, mango, and honeydew melon are also available.

If you don’t want to wait for your next trip to Taiwan to try this delicious treat, there are a few places in Hong Kong that offer near-perfect replicas. You can find pineapple cakes at bakery chains such as Kee Wah and Wing Wah, while the independent supplier Shan Shau Jok offers handmade pineapple cake, among other mouth-watering treats.

Shan Shau Jok, locations across Hong Kong

Wing Wah Cake Shop, locations across Hong Kong

Kee Wah Bakery, locations across Hong Kong

Photo: Supardisahabu (via Wikimedia Commons)

Sesame balls (煎堆)

A dim sum staple, jin dui (煎堆; zin1 deoi1) are deep-fried sesame balls made from glutinous rice flour and coated with sesame seeds. The inside of the pastry is hollow due to the expansion of dough when fried, making it the perfect place to store fillings such as lotus seed, red bean, or black bean paste. You can find sesame balls at almost any dim sum restaurant; however, we have heard that The Graces Restaurant in Lee Theatre Plaza does the best ones.

The Graces Restaurant, 20/F, Lee Theatre Plaza, 99 Percival Street, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2882 1889

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Photo: Hungkloodtaoucoltm (via Wikimedia Commons)

Chicken biscuits (雞仔餅)

No, it’s not the kind from the US. In fact, there’s no chicken in this pastry at all. Hong Kong’s chicken biscuit, fondly referred to as gai jai beng (雞仔餅; gai1 zai2 beng2), has a shiny, golden crust that will lure you in for a bite. Made with bean curd, sesame, and sometimes pork fat, chicken biscuits have a delicious sweet and savoury flavour profile.

For authentic chicken biscuits, head over to Excellent Food Cake Shop (卓越食品餅店) in Sai Ying Pun. With over four decades of history in the neighbourhood, Excellent Food Cake Shop is the go-to place to satisfy pastry cravings when in the area. For those residing across the harbour, pay a visit to Pat Sin Bakery in Sham Shui Po. Another long-standing shop, Pat Sin Bakery is the pastry counterpart to the adjoining Pat Sin Restaurant, both operating since 1966! All pastries are handmade.

Excellent Food Cake Shop (卓越食品餅店), G/F, 305 Queen’s Road West, Sai Ying Pun | (+852) 2540 0858

Pat Sin Bakery, G/F, 197 Nam Cheong Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2729 9440

Photo: Ahleong (via Wikimedia Commons)

Banana rolls (香蕉糕)

What banana rolls (香蕉糕; hoeng1 ziu1 gou1) lack in looks, they certainly make up for in flavour. While no bananas are used in the making, the treat’s pale colour, shape, and taste resemble the fruit. Crafted with glutinous flour, rice flour, banana oil, and sugar, every ingredient is mixed together in warm water to form a sticky dough. After being steamed for half an hour, the cooked dough is rolled in fried rice flour, and cut into shorter, cylindrical pieces. While banana rolls usually come without filling, some are rolled with red bean, green bean, or sesame paste. You can find banana rolls at all the traditional bakeries mentioned in this article.

Photo: @sueshappybakes (via Instagram)

Red bean rice cake (紅豆燒餅)

Delightful and chewy, red bean rice cakes (紅豆燒餅; hung4 dau6 siu1 beng2 or 紅豆餅; hung4 dau6 beng2) are made from glutinous rice flour and sugar. The incorporated sticky dough is rolled out into balls, with red bean paste added into the centre. These are then pan-fried to create the signature crispy outer layer, a perfect contrast to the gooey heart. While red bean paste is the most common filling, other flavours such as custard, green bean paste, and sesame paste have become crowd-favourites.

Red bean cakes are a staple in any traditional bakery, and you can get yours at almost all of the stores mentioned in this article. Alternatively, visit San Lung Bakery in Sham Shui Po—we have heard its glutinous pastries are to die for.

San Lung Bakery, G/F, 66 Pei Ho Street, Sham Shui Po | (+852) 2360 1359

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