Welcome back to The Bite, Sheepshead Bites’ weekly column where we explore the foodstuffs of Sheepshead Bay. Each week we check out a different offering from one of the many restaurants, delis, food carts, bakeries, butchers, fish mongers, or grocers in our neighborhood. If it’s edible, we’ll take a bite.
Avenue U west of Ocean Avenue has a reputation among the foodies of NYC as being Brooklyn’s “Mini China Town.” Only Sunset Park’s “China Town” surpasses our neighborhood in size, but I believe our restaurants and markets are much better. Maybe I’m biased?
Stroll along the avenue and you’ll find Chinese bakeries, markets, stores and restaurants. Many of the store signs are in Chinese, leaving this guilo wondering what wonders await inside.
Today I followed my nose and stepped into L & U Cafe for a quick bite – a Cha Siu Baau or BBQ Pork Bun. Hmm, did someone say BBQ?
Cha Siu Baau is a classic Chinese type of dim sum or dumpling. It is most often associated with Cantonese cuisine. Sometimes the buns are called “Baozi” if they are filled with ingredients besides pork. The typical pork bun is stuffed with diced pork in hoisin or barbecue sauce, and the filling is often colored dark brown or very red.
Traditionally, a Cha Siu Baau is steamed. Steamed Cha Siu Baau is very popular at dim sum restaurants leaving the baked variety for – ready for it – bakeries! These pork buns use a yeast risen flour dough which is extremely white in color. The cooked steamed dough is often cakey and dense, and when not steamed long enough, the interior will taste undercooked and doughy.
That’s not a problem at L & U Cafe. Here the Cha Siu Baau is baked and topped with a sweet egg wash which makes the bun a deep golden brown. Baking also lightens the dough and reduces the cakey density of the bun. Ever have a Brioche? Then you know the bread of a L & U pork bun.
The sweet dough is a great counter-punch to the savory chopped pork in the bun. Slathered with hoison, oyster and soy sauces, the meat is tangy, salty and savory all at the same time. The buns are 70 cents each and a great bargain. While not actually barbecued, this pork is coated in a sauce that replicates the barbecue sauce found on most Chinese spare ribs.
Apparently, baking Cha Siu Baau is a perversion of tradition that began in North America as Chinese bakeries became common in areas with a large Chinese-American population. Traditionally, they are also supposed to be made with rice flour. However, in the U.S. wheat flour is more common.
Once you get past the American twists, the leavened dough is rolled out into rounds, stuffed with barbecue pork, and then pinched on top so the filling doesn’t leak out. If the buns are to be baked, the pinched top is flipped so that it becomes the bottom. The new top is then brushed with an egg white bath and the results are a cooked bun with a round golden top.
Cha Siu Baau is usually served hot. Unlike our friends at McDonald’s, there’s no warning here. The pork bun filling can be extremely hot, so you need to be careful taking your first few bites.
L & U Cafe Inc., 1405 Avenue U, (718) 627-0986.