QIU JI CAKE
Wushan Lu, Tianhe District.
When travelling you have several friends in this world: the internet, a translation app, a plug or adaptor, the library and last but certainly not least the bakery. In the latter instance it can be tricky to find a really good loaf especially in a country like China which doesn’t do bread or dairy as much, if at all, compared to us westerners. Now you could go to Carrefour and I dare say they do have some nice bits and bobs on offer but not necessarily when it comes to a loaf (which again isn’t really a done thing in the middle kingdom). If you must vouch for the safety of the supermarket I’d suggest Garden as a reasonable brand but under no circumstances should you attempt to purchase or use the supermarket baguettes, literally hard as a stone! The French are probably spinning with rage!
So where to go, allow me to suggest the humble Qiu Ji Cake store. I say humble they’ve become so popular that they’ve undergone a serious makeover in recent times and are now somewhat upmarket. There are three to my knowledge, all within ear shot of each other; two on Wushan Road near the South China Normal University metro (Exit E – you’ll have to do a U-turn and walk along the main road to find it) and another further down where Wushan meets Tianhe Lu. If you exit the main gate of SCNU and head over the flyover (on the side of Tianhe Lu with Jinan University on it) and head right, continue down to a row of shops and there you will find the latest edition of the bakery. Not far from the junction with Wushan Lu again so you can visit them all should the need arise. All three are rather pokey affairs but the brown bread (pictured) is the freshest I’ve come across. Most of the white bread in China (even in Walmart) is made with sugar and has that horrible saccharine taste and this is from a guy who has a sweet tooth – but not when it comes to bread.
These loaves are only 8 slices a bag and are (presently) about 5rmb, I usually stock up with four at a time. Another thing to be wary of is that while the West wakes up to the fresh loaf, in China it’s an evening affair – one of those Oriental quirks. Also be wary of anything with pork floss and what looks like a fresh circular loaf in a paper bag is actually embedded by a serious dollop of red bean! They also sell cakes; doughnuts are hit and miss sometimes fresh and sometimes too stodgy. Staff do not generally speak English but are adorable Chinese girls (possibly students working part time) who might giggle and ask if you’re American (which is ok if you are and in any case as they are so cute, you could choose to forgive them). Other times they can appear a little more dour.
TOUS LES JOURS
Several across town, usually in or attached to big malls like Taikoo Hui and IFC
Don’t be fooled by the French name, this is in fact a Korean firm. Despite this moderate deceit, it is nonetheless as authentic as it says on the window. Be warned though, a location in some of Guangzhou’s premier malls comes with premier rents, in other words it ain’t cheap. It is however very good! Can’t say I’ve tried their bread per se but for a real (long) German sausage or a doughnut they’re pretty well on the money. Also fresh yogurts and jams on sale. Sometimes the staff have an annoying habit of getting in the way if you want to get at a particular pastry or such like and it can be busy (which is obviously good news for them and us). The other minor annoyance is having to ask for sugar if you’re buying coffee. As you may guess Tous Les Jours doubles as a cafe, more on them coming up.
Several across town
Relocating to China five years’ ago left a bit of a dent in the culinary department. It has meant saying goodbye to Apple Turnovers, Raspberry Jam Doughnuts and other staples to my diet like Lamb and Mint Pasties, tinned Salmon and a range of breakfast cereals. Of course this is partly why we move; to experience the shock of the new or the unknown. Expat pubs charge a fortune for western fare but fear not, if Chicken Claws aren’t your idea of a snack there is a solution to fill at least part of the void left by vacating your home country and your new home.
Enter Singaporean brand ‘Bread Talk,’ a bakery like no other, especially in China. While they are catching up, Bread Talk offer a sparkling clean environment with an ever changing menu of intriguing delights such as Banana Kick, Curry Pancake, Eggstra-ordinary, Peanut Milk Bread. You can even watch the chef’s at work flipping and twirling their dough like a drummer does his sticks or an aerobic display from a youthful Olympian gymnast – through the spotless glass. Bread Talk’s are normally found in shopping malls in most Chinese cities, just don’t expect Apple Turnovers with cream …yet. Oh, they are also averse to photography so you’ll have to be super discreet and equally quick if you want to take a pic.
There are numerous other bakeries popping up all of the time so keep your eyes peeled if you happen to be in the ‘zhou.