6 Chinese Bakeries in Honolulu to Celebrate the Year of the Rat During Chinese New Year
From newer spots to institutions, here’s where to pick up treats—steamed, baked and candied—for the new year and beyond.
The key to ensuring a prosperous new year always includes food. And as the Lunar New Year approaches—it’s on January 25 this year—some traditional Chinese families are cleansing their homes from top to bottom, purchasing new red decorations and calendars, and visiting temples to light incense and pray to their ancestors and gods. All who celebrate Chinese New Year know the necessity of serving jai or jin dui on their dinner tables, and nothing sparks excitement for the new year like freshly made goods.
Many commercial stores and restaurants serve gao wrapped in red paper and plastic to mark Chinese New Year, but for a more diverse selection of treats, head to a Chinese bakery. Here are six of our favorites.
Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery
Owners Mei and Wesley Fang have been steadily serving loyal customers (including myself!) since opening Sing Cheong Yuan in 2008. Their list of specialties is lengthy and informative: peanut candy, char siu bao, half moon, jin dui and moon cake. My personal year-round favorite is their jung—black-eyed beans, pork, salted egg yolk and sticky rice—for its simultaneously salty and sweet chewiness ($3.95). In anticipation of Lunar New Year, Sing Cheong Yuan is already selling sesame and date-topped gao of different sizes, as well as candied fruits and vegetables to be chosen and assembled into boxes. While I don’t hesitate to eat the lotus root or ginger pieces, the coconut shavings and carrots symbolizing resilience and good times ahead provide the type of energy I (and probably most everyone else) need.
1027 Maunakea St., (808) 531-6688
Lee’s Bakery and Kitchen
There’s no better place for a creamy custard pie than Lee’s Bakery. The crust is light and tender, and they don’t skimp on the filling. You can also order noteworthy flavors like custard pumpkin, peach and pear ($14.50) if you’re looking for something different to share with your family. Lee’s also sells dan ta, individual-sized egg tarts ($1.25), though they have a different flavor from the larger custard pies. They’re more than enough to satisfy a quick craving. Either way, be prepared to arrive early or risk encountering long queues to get through the door.
125 N. King St., (808) 521-6261
Bread House Bakery
Upon entering Bread House Bakery, you’re invited to pick up a plastic tray and tongs to select from pastries lining the display cases. Chinese-style items include paper cup sponge cakes and pineapple, custard and coconut cream buns for under $2 each. The bread is soft and easy to tear into, while the taste is mildly sweet as opposed to the sugar-laden pastries found elsewhere.
1041 Maunakea St., (808) 548-0218
New Lin Fong
Almond cookies from New Lin Fong bakery.
Photo: Tani Loo
This tiny, nondescript bakery offers just a display case featuring its popular almond cookies, tea cookies and rice cakes. I ordered the tea cookies ($4.75 for a bag of eight), which were soft, held together well, and easy on the palate. If they taste familiar, it’s because New Lin Fong sells its items wholesale to other shops and restaurants.
1132 Maunakea St., (808) 538-6644
Char Hung Sut
Since 1945, the Bat Moi family has been running Char Hung Sut, and the popularity of the place is obvious as soon as you join the line snaking out the door. Inside, you’re engulfed by the smell of freshly steamed buns; you can watch employees folding and sealing ingredients in dough only a few feet away. Char Hung Sut’s manapua ($1.90), half moon ($0.95) and pork hash ($0.95) are must-eats. The place also has yap chai, chow fun and gon lo mein. There’s nothing that I love more than ma tai soo though, with the warm, slightly crumbly pastry encompassing a blend of turnips, pork and green onions ($0.95). Char Hung Sut provides a more local twist on its items, and stopping by before or on Lunar New Year is a must.
64 N. Pauahi St., (808) 538-3335, charhungsutrestaurant.com
This outpost of a bakery chain based out of southern California opened near Ala Moana in 2015. It offers Taiwan-style breads, cakes and fresh-milk boba teas. You’ll find soft and light breads in both savory and sweet options, including one topped with garlic, bacon and cheese; another with rousong, affectionately known as pork fuzz; and one stuffed with red bean paste (prices from $2 to $4). They serve Taiwan’s popular pineapple cakes, too—small, square-shaped pastries with a thick, jammy pineapple filling. These individually wrapped pineapple cakes ($11.70 for a box of six) have been passed around my family gatherings more than once. And for Chinese New Year, JJ2 brings back its sticky rice cakes layered with red bean paste.
1440 Kapi‘olani Blvd., (808) 942-0888, jjsquaredbakery.com