[dropcap size=big]W[/dropcap]hen the Hainanese immigrants first arrived in Singapore in the mid-19th century, they carved a niche for themselves by working as cooks and bakers in European households. Among the things they excelled at making were buns, an item that evolved from their learning the art of baking from their employers. Inside the pastry, the Hainanese stuffed different ingredients familiar to fellow Chinese immigrants, such as coconut, curry chicken, and chicken luncheon meat. Sold in traditional coffee shops, they were mainly enjoyed at breakfast and teatime.
The appeal of the Hainanese bun lies in its simplicity. Equally compelling is the nostalgia that sets in when snacking on it, felt particularly by the older consumers. For the young, it is a convenient stomach-filler to be had on the go, or while at the work desk. “A good one is pillow-soft and fluffy, with a generous and tasty filling,” says William Lim, the CEO of snack chain Old Chang Kee. In early 2015, the group opened Bun Times in Tampines and Joo Koon, specialising in traditional Hainanese buns. The baked goods that emerge from the ovens at each of the two outlets are as he describes. Their fluffiness, says Lim, is a combination of various factors. “It includes using the right level of moisture in our fillings, the finest flour from trusted suppliers, and our secret dough formula to bake the buns under strict quality control.”
Bun Times also hired a Hainanese consultant to advise them on the recipes, so that the culinary heritage of their buns is retained even when the range of fillings is expanded. This includes new flavours such as fragrant Hae Bee Bun stuffed with dried shrimp, and Ikan Bilis Bun, filled with spicy, crunchy dried whitebait.
Although the buns are baked in ovens featuring modern technology, Lim feels it does not make them any less traditional. “It just means stricter quality control and higher precision to ensure consistent quality and good taste.” While this is a departure from the norm, we are sure the Hainanese forefathers would be proud anyway.
The man on the street might be able to tell one bun apart from another only by its filling – and Bun Times certainly offers a wide variety, but there is more to a well-made bun.
• A special flour mix lends the buns volume, a soft texture and a distinct aroma.
• Forty-five minutes is required to proof the dough.
• Proofing is done at a controlled temperature of 30 deg C for optimal results.
• Once the filling is heaped in, the buns are baked for precisely 45 minutes. Oven temperature is carefully monitored for consistency.
William Lim, CEO of Old Chang Kee, points out the must-haves at Bun Times.
CURRY CHICKEN BUN
The succulent Curry Bun is made from an authentic curry recipe, leveraging on the expertise of Old Chang Kee. Expect to find generous chunks of chicken meat and potatoes packed into it.
The filling of this sweet bun is made with the finest grated coconut mixed with gula melaka to bring out the robust aroma and flavour of the fruit. Best paired with a kopi on the side.