Egg tarts are one of those foods that confuse the hell out of me. Technically, an egg is not a dessert and there is no way in hell it should taste sweet. But leave it to the Chinese to figure out how to make something into a complete paradox of itself. The egg tart was once a food of Portuguese origins has now become synonymous with cheap dim sum and Chinese bakeries across the United States. While egg tarts are nowhere as horrific as the bastardization of elbow macaroni, lunch meat and tomato soup, egg tarts still serve as a prime example of how typical western-style food morphs into a local Asian version that is beloved by all.
In the San Francisco Bay Area there are three heavyweights of Chinese bakeries. Sheng Kee, the heaviest of the heavyweights, is a Taiwanese bakery with 12 locations around the Bay Area. Kee Wah, a Hong Kong bakery with 3 locations in Northern California and 3 more in Southern California. Lastly, Sogo, which is typically the name of a department store in Asia, is a bakery with 4 retail locations and 4 “mini stores” inside of 99 Ranch supermarkets. Frankly speaking, the bakeries are almost indistinguishable with each other. But the one thing they do have is egg tarts. So let’s put these heavyweights to the test to determine, which Chinese bakery chain makes the best egg tarts!
Editor’s Note: For the purpose of this article, famous stalwarts such as Golden Gate Bakery in San Francisco will not be used as they are not technically a “chain.” Additionally, as of this writing, 85 degrees bakery has only one location in the Bay Area, hence they will not be included. Maybe they will be in a part 2? Stay tuned…
3. Sheng Kee Bakery
1842 N Milpitas Blvd
Milpitas, CA 95035
$1.35 per egg tart
Coming into this shootout, I had high hopes for Sheng Kee since I’ve been eating their pastries for as long as I can remember. In my family, a Chinese birthday party wouldn’t be a Chinese birthday party without a Sheng Kee cake. It’s like having an old uncle who has a bum leg and can’t really walk. But somehow, you know he will find a way to make it to Chinese New Years dinner. Sheng Kee is that uncle.
The first bite of the egg tart you get this wonderful milky flavor, which is somewhat confusing given that this is an egg tart. After a few chews, the milk flavor disappears and a feint egg taste comes through. Overall, this egg tart left me a bit… mixed. Besides the look of it, it didn’t really taste like an egg tart at all.
As much as I wanted to love this egg tart, I had a hard time doing so. Sorry dear uncle, your bum leg is only going to take you so far this time around.
2. Kee Wah Bakery
10370 S De Anza Blvd
Cupertino, CA 95014
$1.25 per egg tart
Kee Wah may not have as big of a presence as Sheng Kee, but that doesn’t make it any less important in the annals of Chinese bakeries. Truthfully, I have only gone to Kee Wah a handful of times in my life. My mom isn’t exactly a fan of Kee Wah, citing that their pastries are overly sweet and contains too much sugar. As an American with obese tendencies, I say their pastries are just right.
Kee Wah’s egg tart has a light eggy taste with the consistency of custard. Once it touches your lips, its so good. If you keep chewing it, you’ll unlock this slightly smoky flavor that must have been from the Kee Wah baking process. The one thing you’ll notice immediately is that this egg tart is fresh as hell and it is damn good.
Frankly, Kee Wah surprised me since I didn’t expect their egg tarts to be so good. It was velvety smooth and has a beautiful flavor that I am still thinking of as I write this.
1. SOGO Bakery
338 Barber Ln
Milpitas, CA 95035
$1.00 per egg tart
For the longest time, I thought that SOGO bakery exists in conjunction with the Japanese department store of the same name. I still don’t know if that assumption is correct, but until someone tells me otherwise, I am going to continue to assume it is. SOGO bakeries are typically found inside of either 99 Ranch or Marina supermarkets. Sure its presentation is subpar when compared to the other two bakeries, but this challenge isn’t about aesthetics, its about the egg tarts.
I bought my sample from the inside of a 99 Ranch supermarket. By the time I got there, the egg tarts were no longer fresh nor warm. Surely, I thought, this egg tart must suck.
Boy, was I wrong. SOGO’s egg tart has a sweet and milky consistency from the first bite to the last. The outer crust gave off a satisfying, audible crunch as I bit into it. There was enough bite to it that would make Snap, Crackle and Pop jealous. Biting into the custard was like eating your way through fine greek yogurt. So soft and pillowy, the entire egg tart just melts in your mouth. Now, imagine if this egg tart was actually fresh… It would blow past its 1 ranking easily.
I’m not saying these egg tarts are better than the famed Golden Gate Bakery in San Francisco. Nor am I saying that they are worse off. However, I will definitively say that SOGO egg tarts are probably the best of all the Chinese bakery chains. I have high hopes for 85 Degrees bakery’s egg tart, but until they become a chain, they will be left off the list for now.