The Great Torontoist Challenge: Red Bean Bun Edition
Photo by roboppy from Flickr.
Don’t be fooled by the beanage—red bean paste, eaten most often in Japan, Korea, and China, is sweet and not overly legumey on the palate. Boiled down and mashed to a paste of varying levels of smoothness, red beans are not only tasty, but also super healthy—high in iron, thiamin, protein, fiber, and low in fat. Sure, you could pull out your bean-eating spoon and straight-up consume a can of the stuff, but why do that when you can just as easily trot on down to your closest Asian bakery and eat the paste in the “encased” style—the red bean bun.
We’re not really sure why, but it is not easy getting information about these bakeries. They don’t have websites, they aren’t always listed in the Yellow Pages, and amusing food-blog anecdotes are hard to come by.
- Kim Moon Bakery. A stone’s throw from the AGO, Kim Moon Bakery is a bun-lover’s heaven, and is also considered a fantastical lunch spot for those on a budget, with soups and dim sum available.
- Furama Cake and Dessert Garden. We visited the Spadina location of Furama, but you can also call on them in Fairview Mall and, according to the Yellow Pages, in First Canadian Place. Furama has a cafeteria-vibe to it, with trays and tongs for all your bun-acquiring needs. If you buy 6, you don’t have to pay the tax. Thrifty!
- Markham Bakery-Café. What can we say about Markham Bakery-Café? It’s located in First Markham Place, which has its own website with a sinister-looking bunny in mid-pounce featured on it.
- Richmond Court Restaurant and Bakery. Richmond Court is actually a massive restaurant, complete with ample ducks and pigs a-dangling. There are two locations—one in Times Square Plaza, which we visited, and one in Golden View Plaza, which, despite our interest in all things aureate, we did not.
- Appearance. It is a nice colour? Not too pale? Nice egg wash? Does it have any fancy decorations, like poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or pineapple crusties?
- Freshness. Is it squishy? Does it smell good? Was it obviously baked today?
- Bun. Is the flavour just right, or is it too sweet, or too bland? Is it too doughy, dense, or too airy?
- Bean Innards. Is the texture nice, not too grainy, too chunky, not exactly like baby food? Is the flavour a delight?
- Value. As in our last challenge, these are already good value, but how do they measure up against each other, size, cost, and quality wise?
Photos of red bean bun from Markham Bakery-Café by Julie Reitsma.
Each contestant comes in at under the dollar mark, which is handy if you don’t have a whole dollar, but would like a snack.
Kim Moon ($0.60); Richmond Court ($0.67); Furama ($0.80); Markham Bakery ($0.81).
- Appearance. TIE: Furama and Richmond Court—9/10. Furama’s offering had a nice baked egg-washy colour, with a pretty decorative crusty blob. Richmond Court achieved the right level of yellow desirable in a red bean bun without it becoming too jaundiced. And there were sesame seeds!
- Freshness. Furama—10/10. Hands down—this was still warm, not only when we obtained it on Spadina, but also by the time we got it back to our judging lair, a good 20 minutes away.
- Bun. TIE: Furama and Richmond Court—8/10. With a slight sweetness, Furama’s bun also had the proper consistency. Richmond Court’s bun had a nice taste, again with a hint of sweet and a yummy topping.
- Bean Innards. Richmond Court—10/10. Richmond Court stuffs their buns with a whole mess of perfectly mashed beany-goodness.
- Value. Richmond Court—8.5/10. With all the components scoring high, and a price tag of 67 cents, you just can’t go wrong. Well, you do have to get your ass to Richmond Hill, but maybe you were already planning an outing there anyway to check out the observatory before it’s sold. Two birds, one stone kind of thing.
Photos of red bean bun from Kim Moon Bakery by Julie Reitsma.
We have, in the course of doing these challenges, eaten some things we’d rather we hadn’t. There was the baby arm baguette, the Neo-Citran margarita, and the palest pad thai this side of Cornwall. Well, friends, the red bean bun from Markham Bakery-Café will go down as the worst thing we’ve consumed so far. Egads. Sure, it didn’t look bad—pretty nice colour, some sesame seeds—but it was nothing exciting and, at least in the eyes of one judge, eerily round. Though it didn’t seem “un-fresh” per se, we couldn’t detect any evidence of it having been made on-site at said “bakery” and so the freshness was difficult to attest to. It was upon tearing the bun open and attempting to eat it that everything really started to deteriorate. The bun itself was at best a dinner roll and had a flavour that can only be qualified as “day-old danish.” What was more frightening was what was hiding inside. We cannot, with any certainty, confirm what it was. It looked a bit like already-enjoyed chewing tobacco, it stuck to the roof of our mouths, and it had a taste that was described as “burnt,” “tootsie roll,” “count chocula-ish,” and “ew.” The judging panel was left with the unsettling premonition that if we attempted to compost the leftovers they wouldn’t break down, but would rather somehow become larger and more powerful. Why did this cost any money? If you have paid for this, you have made a mistake. Don’t make it any worse by actually eating it.
Leaps and bounds beyond last place, the red bean bun from Kim Moon Bakery was still pretty middle-of-the-road. Though soft and fresh-smelling, this bun was quite pale and almost appeared slightly under-cooked, a condition confirmed upon taking a bite. Though the exterior had a nice crispiness to it, the insides were too doughy and the filling, though very obviously real red beans and delightful to taste, were lacking in quantity. This bun was a good size, for a fantastic price, but not quite there. We suggest an extra 3 minutes in the oven, an extra squish of beans, maybe a pinch more sugar, and you’d have a serious contender for the crown.
Photos of red bean bun from Furama Cake and Dessert Garden by Julie Reitsma.
Furama’s red bean bun tied for bragging rights in a couple of categories in this challenge. The central crust-o-blob, colour enhancing egg wash and a hand-constructed foldy bun appearance combined with stellar freshness levels to produce a contestant that was, in many ways, quite fantastique. Beyond looks, we enjoyed the chewiness of the bun, but ran into a few problems when the beannage hit our palate. While the bean paste had an agreeable level of sweetness to it, it was too smooth—oddly so—and the initial sweetness was almost nullified by a mixture of bitterness and the distinct taste of something that has been burnt. Torontoist has been a Furama customers for yonks and will continue to be—the bean paste issues weren’t overwhelming and on a whole the experience was pleasant; this was, in the words of one judge, a very pretty bun, though the red bean part was found to be lacking in the zazz department.
Photos of red bean bun from Richmond Court Restaurant and Bakery by Julie Reitsma.
Clearly cooked in-house, Richmond Court’s red bean bun is divine. Solid sesame action and appealing yellow crusties bedeck the exterior, and while the bun was a bit dense upon initial inspection, causing a rather mangled result upon tearing, it was found to be the perfect foil to what could easily be called the most accomplished red bean bun innards ever; and by accomplished we don’t mean these beans play the violin well. Though they might—they were really stand-out, with a first-rate flavour and a texture that was creamy, yet full of obvious beanness. As one judge put it, the abundant innards of this red bean bun were exactly how they should be. Richmond Court skimped on nothing when creating this snack, and at 67 cents, you’d be a damned, damned fool to not try one for yourself. After all, as the old Korean proverb teaches us, “Plant soy and you get soy. Plant red beans and you’ll get red bean buns.”