So what’s the scoop on the story? Well, lets unwrap a box of Kam Do’s excellent pastries flown straight from Vancouver (yes, from a super awesome girlfriend getting married!), there’s a few versions. First version is a baker was either about to start a bakery or his bakery wasn’t faring so well. His wife asked him to make a traditional pastry of her village, which wasn’t super sweet and would help him stand out from the competition in the village. She made one for him to try and he scoffed at it saying a pastry that’s barely sweet and made with wintermelon?! Wintermelon is used only for soup! He was unconvinced… until he bit into one. He went on to make a fortune baking and selling them in his village, and named the pastry “old woman cakes”, as wife is loosely translated into “old woman”, or now more commonly known as wife or sweetheart cakes.
An older version of the story: husband and wife are dirt poor, and the husband or the father in law gets very ill. In order to raise money for medicine that cures the illness, the wife secretly disappears and sells herself into slavery. When the husband found out, impassioned to raise money to get his wife back, he creates a pastry he names after his wife with what ingredients he had on hand. Sugar is expensive so the sweetness comes from the story of the wife’s unselfishness. He eventually makes a fortune selling these pastries and as he travelled village thru village selling his pastries, he was eventually located, freed and was united with his wife.
And a third version which also floats out there: Husband is baker, gets by but has a bad gambling/booze addiction. Wife maintains household and raises kids on own until she’s had it dealing with the loan sharks. The wife takes the kids and moves back in with her folks, essentially divorcing him, and the husband eventually hits rock bottom, learns the errors of his ways, creates a pastry in honor of his wife and wins back his family and wife. And alternate version of the story was the pastry was his wife’s favorite with an odd flavor combination, and the wife in desperation bakes them to raise money to keep the family afloat, husband beats his addictions and goes back to running a now very successful bakery.
Regardless of what version of the story is true, the elements remain the same – husband and wife inspire one another to overcome adversity and grow as a family (and financially… Chinese love happy endings with lots of money!) and that’s the symbolism behind these delightfully flakey savory on the outside and slightly sweet on the inside pastries.
You can get them traditionally stuffed with just slightly sweetened wintermelon paste, or have spiced, sesame seed or nut varieties added to the wintermelon filling. It’s a story that will continue to change over time, but Chinese and others will continue to purchase these toothsome pastries for their sweethearts and wives for years to come.
Kam Do Bakery
Address No 3 Rd Ste 130-6211 Richmond, BC V6Y 0C2
Phone (604) 284-5611
Hours Open daily 6am-8:30pm
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