We set out to find and devour stuffed food from every possible culture right here in the Bayou City. From empanadas to dumplings, kolaches to samosas, we're getting stuffed.
The goal of this column is to highlight cross-sectional foods. There is something universal about stuffed dough, whether it be steamed, fried, boiled, or baked. Equally universal are the traditional bakeries where we find so many of our favorite stuffed dishes. Baking traditions transcend boundaries and connect cultures. Within the baked goods of one cuisine we will always find similarities to many others.
In Houston's Chinatown, one name stands above the rest when it comes to Chinese baking. Six Ping, the family owned mini-chain with five Chinatown locations, is renowned in Houston for its traditional Asian pastries and custom cakes. One of the bakery's most popular items are its sweet stuffed buns.
The self serve bakery provides metal trays for customers to fill with pastries as they walk around the small, shelf-lined storefront — a service model mirrored by bakeries from Mexico to France. The selection at any of the Six Ping locations can be a little overwhelming, but a safe place to start is with the buns and rolls that line the shelves just right of the exit.
Most common among the colorful and fluffy looking pastries are the red bean paste buns. Red bean paste is one of the most popular jams or fillings across east Asian cuisines. Traditional to China, Korea, and Japan, the sweet paste made of mashed red beans cooked down with sugar or honey is used in dozens of sweet dishes across all three cultures. Perhaps the most common use of the filling is to make a variety of baked rolls and steamed baos collectively known as red bean, or simply bean buns.
The type of buns sold at Six Ping most closely resemble Japanese anpan, fluffy baked sweet rolls filled with bean paste and topped with sesame seeds. The sticky bread is extremely soft and doughy, while the bean filling is mildly sweet with a texture reminiscent of refried beans. At under $2, these pastries make an affordable on the go breakfast or mid-day snack.
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Another of the bakery's most popular items are the taro buns. Equally soft and sticky buns filled with a sweet paste made from the root vegetable, taro. If you're looking for something more traditionally sweet, try the yellow custard or blueberry cream buns.
The bakery also offers dozens of Chinese and Japanese cookies, cakes, and savory dinner breads. The fare is extremely affordable and made fresh daily (which becomes obvious as the more popular items quickly run out by midday).
Six Ping bakery, like all of Chinatown, is one of the city's more immersive cultural experiences. A casual walk-in reveals a world of ingredients and flavors potentially foreign to the average western customer. Yet, its warm ambiance and crave inducing shelves invite us to try new things, perhaps discovering our newest obsession.
All Six Ping locations are open Monday through Thursday from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. and Friday through Sunday from 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.