Not sure if I've been clear so far, but most food in China isn't good. It seems to be either too brown, too Westernized, too undercooked/overcooked, too salty, too whatever. But I don't feel like harping too much (more) on the shortcomings and offer up a couple of things I came across that, while not a revelation, were more than I expected.
In Shanghai, we ventured to some second floor restaurant on Nanjing road. The food wasn't the worst we've had, more meh to good enough on this particular evening. What actually intrigued me was a (very) tiny spot right next to the stairs leading up to the restaurant. It consisted of a coffee espresso maker, two dudes and a glass case with--donuts! Called 1454's Cafe, they offer up single origin coffees mostly and seemed to have developed a following after having only opened late last year.
Of course, we all know what caught my eye were the donuts. Or more to the point, they actually looked like donuts and not some bagel with stuff on top. I'd been in China roughly two weeks, there was no way I wasn't going to try them. In fact, I decided to try all the flavors they had in stock. I got multiples for a total of 8, which I think threw the guys, my getting so many at one time. If they only knew me!
Alright, it's only the toppings that change on these things, the base is the same. Difference with these is the dough wasn't as thick and bready as many others I'd had. Meaning they didn't taste like a chewy bagel. They weren't cake-like, but were deep fried and somewhere between puffy dough and bread that was slightly sweet. Something you could also say about they stuff on top too. Putting lots of sugar in things doesn't seem to be a Chinese forte. In this instance I was okay with that. No sugar toothaches here. You couldn't really taste the white chocolate shavings, they seemed more for looks. The chocolate was on the very dark side and the stand out flavor on the ones that had it. The glazes weren't too bad either. Altogether, they combined into a relatively tasty pastry to our surprise.
Were these great donuts? No, not in the realm of local SF faves, but I'm judging these through a lens of perception based on what I'm learning is available locally. As a change from the pretty but plain things I've been having, they are a welcome difference that hit the spot for us. Particularly after another so-so meal. While it may seem like lowered expectations, I'm choosing to see them as more realistic to our surroundings, without being defeatist that is. And if you are in Shanghai and craving a decent quick dessert, they'd be worth checking out.
Further hope did spring eternal in Macau, at the MGM Grand of all places. We were killing time till our ferry boat for Hong Kong left and since I'm not of the gambling type, where money is involved, I wandered around looking at their food options. They had several places serving up sweets of various varieties, but since I was on a donut kick, I found myself drawn to a kiosk selling them along with ice cream.
I only had a few Hong Kong bucks on me and they had about six flavors to choose from, needless to say I was torn. I spent a few too many minutes contemplating as the bus to the boat was leaving and having to make a choice, I decided to go simple and basic.
I thought, why not see how well they can do the easiest of flavors. Like many things in casinos, these were big. Larger than the palm of my hand and thick. They were also the closest to a classic donut I'd had in this country. The dough was a puffed up cake somewhere akin to fluffy Wonder Bread with the flavor of a basic pancake mix. The topping was a sugar glazed crust of strawberry flavor which managed not to taste artificial and came across more like frosting. You know I can't hate on that!
The lady said it was filled and my first two bites didn't come across any so I thought she may have been mistaken. But my third bite in came across a small bit and I had fears it was all there was. The fourth bite hit the motherlode of strawberry filling. So much so, it squirted out onto the sidewalk and, alas, on my pants. I was bummed, not from the stain it was gonna leave, but because I was loosing out on more filling. Priorities you know. The filling was slightly more liquid than preserves and had a strong flavor with small chunks of strawberry. It also didn't come across as a sugar bomb, so props for a nice balance. I give this one a big thumbs up as this food gamble paid off. (see what I did there? casino? gamble? I got lots of 'em!)
(What feels like) 50 days into China and I got some donuts I liked! And I won't chalk these up to desperation (too much) either! Basic though they may have been, they were executed well enough to satisfy my sweet tooth. I realize I should probably stop here and cling to this memory of sugarness, but the trip goes on and so does my endless quest to find baked goods wherever I can. Next stop is Hong Kong, a former British colony now a province of China. With their previous English reign, surely I'll be able to find something, right?
On a side note. The donuts from 1454's came individually bagged with this little logo.
That's "just bake fresh" and "hade make"! Ah, gotta love the translation!