"Don't you go to different bakeries for different Baos?" asked an old friend Kim.
The truth is, before she had asked me this question, Baos were something that I stuck in my mouth when I was mindlessly hungry. It wasn't a meal. It wasn't real food. It was just something to make the hunger go away temporarily. I mean I knew that the Coffee House one the corner wasn't that great. But they were open late. The location was right in the center of Chinatown. So I actually ate bao's from there regularly. They were also fast.
May's Cake House was a little better, but I ate there regularly too because it was right across from Moh Goon. In fact, I had my little dream breakfast. Wake up late. Go over there, get a bao and eat it at Moh Goon. Hong Dao or Hot Dog usually. They weren't bad. It's just that I would never have a craving for a bao exactly. I was just hungry and that was the closest thing. Plus the people who served there knew me and were nice to me, and I was semi-related to the owner. But later on the real reason I always went there, even when there was ply wood all around, was that it was the closest place to Tufts Medical Center.
You know, when May's Cake House closed, nobody got in an uproar the way they did about Maxim Coffee House.
I realized then that as "small" as Chinatown is, it is actually still broken up into even smaller neighborhoods. When I was at the Moh Goon at Tai Tung, I tended to stay down there. I went to the Produce place across the street, I would go to the Bao place across the street. I went to Chinatown Cafe. It was like a small Chinatown within Chinatown.
I only went to the Coffee House when I did Crime watch. And interestingly, Crime watch tended to Patrol in the center of the businesses.
My Kung Fu Territory was Tai Tung, Tufts, May's Cake House.. that area... and later when Shao went to BCNC I stayed down that area too.
Now when I street sweep I chose to Sweep Tyler because the Moh Goon is on Tyler and still there is a little community within a community there too. Most of the businesses are hair salons which means nothing to me since I cut what is left of my own hair.
May's Cake is supposed to re-open, but that closing actually changes life more than Maxim Coffee House (not to be confused with Maxim bakery). Because that corner was a big area for restaurant workers to get picked up in a van to go to work. I mean May's. Maxim Coffee house is a pick up spot too, but there are other bakeries around. May's was the only one down there. You would see all the workers in the morning with a coffee and a bao, smoking waiting to be picked up by a restaurant van to go to the suburbs, or even JP (I saw the Food Wall van there once.)
That little section still has Tai Tung Pharmacy (which a lot of old Chinese people get their prescriptions from even if they live in the burbs. They might pick up scripts after or before Church. Or they don;t speak English well enough so going to that Pharmacy means they don't have to bother their kids. CVS might have Chinese speakers, but do they sell Ming Po and World Journal? Can they get a coffee and a bao across the street while they wait?
Well now that May's is closed they can't do that, but they can get some Char Siu or Fau Yuk to bring home from Chinatown Cafe.
Chinatown is more than just restaurants. It's the grouping of several Chinese like businesses that you might need to have in one spot. Gambling house? Gotta eat afterward, so restaurant's pop up.
But the bakery, the Chinese Duncan Donuts, the blue collar Starbucks that will give you protein instead of just sugar and caffein, used to be the indication that the Chinatown is healthy. If you go to a bakery, chances are it's a daily ritual and you have some sort of tie to the community.
You saw African American kids in May's Cake house all the time. They were there because they lived there, or they went to Josiah Quincy School. After a while, they probably even start ordering in Chinese. If not, you can always just point. In any case they are not tourists.
Maxim Coffee House is going to be a new Chinese Bakery. And May's should re-open as soon as the building is fixed up. But it's true that Bakeries are more the life pulse of the community than restaurants. D.C. doesn't even have them from what I've heard. I mean you can't make money off tourists selling Baos that are less than one dollar.
But restaurants can make money selling alcohol and big meals. People will drive all the way somewhere to eat dinner. But their not going to drive all the way somewhere for Coffee and a Bao. They are more likely to just opt for Duncan's or Starbucks.
Next time, though let's talk about some of the Bakeries that are open, and some of the differences between them.