By Assunta Ng
Pike Place Market, rated as the most popular farmers market in the United States, has numerous European bakeries, but only one Chinese bakery. Mee Sum Pastry is a success at the market. Its décor, which hasn’t changed much in 31 years, is like a traditional bakery in old Chinatown, yet its pastries are surprisingly different and appealing. Frequently, it has lines of hungry customers waiting to buy what is possibly considered the biggest hum bow in Washington state.
Mee Sum (means beautiful heart) Pastry, located at 1526 Pike Place Market, never claims its hum bow to be the biggest in size. I say it is because I haven’t seen hum bow in any of Washington’s Chinese restaurants bigger than Mee Sum’s. Many of their customers are local folks, not tourists. They know exactly what they want.
What I discovered about Mee Sum is its efficiency. The tiny bakery, with about 325 sq. ft. of space and six workers making the pastries on site, specializes in a variety of hum bow. You can see them working from the counter. From rolling the dough to laying them on the baking pans, they produce more than 1,000 buns a day. These amazing workers make delicious hum bow, served fresh out of the oven.
When comes to hum bow, I am picky — less dough and plenty of ingredients inside. The skin should be thin enough to hold the filling — the less starch, the better. I hate eating a big splash of starch and little goodies.
After one bite of Mee Sum’s hum bow skin and dough, I realized its bread is one of a kind. I have never eaten hum bow with that kind of bun. It has a crispy surface, with a slightly chewy texture on its inner layer and mouth-watering shredded barbecue pork with onions inside. Each one is baked just right.
You can have chicken-baked hum bow, with mushrooms, celery, and other kinds of spices, just like the baked Chinese chicken pie. You can also ask for baked curried beef hum bow, which is a bit spicy, with beef cut into small pieces. You can choose a hot dog bun, too.
If you like to have it steamed instead of baked, you have that choice. I prefer the baked ones with chicken and pork.
Sherman Su loves the Mee Sum bun. He said whenever he has a chance to walk to the market, the first thing he does is buy the BBQ pork steamed hum bow.
If you go to Yelp, you’ll find that Mee Sum’s hum bow is rated four stars, and also the No. 1 place for hum bow in Seattle. Some Yelp eaters said one Mee Sum hum bow is enough for lunch, for under $5. For me, a small eater, one Mee Sum hum bow can last me the whole day. My trick is to buy two and share them with my family as snacks.
As you can see, non-Chinese eaters think that Mee Sum is reasonably priced, whereas Chinese consumers might consider it too pricy for this town. For $2.52, it is three times the size of any Chinatown hum bow, which sell for 60 cents to 80 cents each. I still think Mee Sum’s is worth that much.
Jack Fong and his wife, Melissa, owners of Mee Sum for 31 years in Pike Place Market, said his father-in-law gave him a secret formula for hum bow. It is a fusion of Chinese hum bow and Western bakery methods. No wonder the skin of his hum bow tastes so good. His in-laws used to work for Louie’s and other Chinese restaurants decades ago.
Fong also owns the Pike Place Chinese Restaurant across the street at the market. Between the restaurant and bakery, Fong runs around between two businesses.
You won’t find a second Mee Sum at the market. Pike Place Market management likes to diversify its shops. All Pike’s bakeries differ in their niches, so they don’t compete with each other.
For Mee Sum’s special place and role in the market, it will remain strong and foster a unique culinary culture in Seattle. (end)