Sunday, June 3, 2012

Chicago Chowdown: Wan Shi Da Bakery, Chinatown

Yep, I'm (figuratively) still in Chicago's Chinatown, doing due diligence on all the wonderful treats and tastes I discovered there, and today's post takes us to the delightful little Wan Shi Da Bakery on S. Wentworth Avenue.

If you read yesterday's post, you'll remember that my sister and I started off our visit with a delicious dim sum lunch at Shui Wah, so you might be forgiven for thinking that that was the end of our Chinatown chowdown. Of course, you'd be completely wrong - for the simple fact that no visit to Chinatown can possibly be considered complete without the purchase of at least one BBQ pork bun.

I've explained my fondness for pork buns in a previous post, so I'll just say that after chasing char siu bao through the streets of London's Chinatown and Chinatown NYC, I wasn't about to let them get away from me in Chicago.

So many pork buns!

If I'm honest, I spend more time thinking about these little golden pillows of sweet-and-savory, doughy perfection than I'd like to admit, so I was hardly going to pass up the opportunity to eat one...or several. In fact, for quality control purposes (of course!), my sister and I actually sampled offerings from two Chicago bakeries - the other being Chiu Quon, also on Wentworth Ave. - but determined that the pork-filled buns and other bakery treats at Wan Shi Da were most deserving of a review.

The Traditional

The bakery itself isn't anything to write home about, but the service is friendly and the treats - oh, the treats! In addition to the usual Chinese pastries, there's a large selection of fancy cakes, most of them brightly colored and covered with all sort of glazed fruits. We didn't try any of these. No, our attention was quite focused, as it should be, on the pork buns.

The Dry

Wan Shi Da is a great place to buy pork buns, not simply because they're plump, fresh, and delicious, or because they cost less than a dollar, but because they offer no less than three different kinds. You've got your traditional pork bun, your pork bun with sweet topping, and your dry pork bun (think very lightly shaved jerky-type meat on top and inside). Of course we had to try one of each.

The Sweet-Topped

The sweet topping reminds me of those almond cookies you sometimes get post-meal at Chinese restaurants, and while it couldn't woo me away from my favorite traditional pork buns, it's good for a change of pace. The dry pork bun was also an interesting and tasty alternative, but I still maintain that the original version, with its juicy filling, tender dough and ever-so-slightly-sweet glaze is the best of all.

In addition to our pork buns, we bought a few sweet pastries to carry home - my sister bought a sesame ball filled with red bean paste and an egg custard tart, while I tried a sponge cake and a custard-filled bun. Of these, I'd have to say that the sponge cake was my favorite - a pleasantly light and airy cake, reminiscent of Angel Food Cake in texture, but with a more substantial butter/egg flavor.

Sponge Cake

All of our selections were delightfully fresh and each one cost only pennies - I think I paid under $3 for four items (all carry-out items are 20% off, for an even sweeter deal!). I even bought a pork bun to take with me on my return trip to Tennessee the next day, and it was still fresh and delicious a day later, if a bit smashed from the journey. Overall, I'd heartily recommend a visit to Wan Shi Da. In addition to bakery items, there's a small cafe attached with 'real' food and on-site seating - and if there food is any bit as good as their baked goods, I think a return trip is in order!

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1 comment:

  1. Wan Shi Da certainly looks like a great place to me. Thanks to the writer for sharing the experience with us. I am sure many of us would love to go there.