Hard work to make food by hand

Pictures by: 
Jeremy Long

It is easy to miss Mr Lai Chee Peng’s bakery, in an old run down shophouse in Whampoa. It has an old wooden signboard and a nondescript exterior. No bright flashy lights or designer-counters advertise the shop’s wares, only the aroma of warm, freshly baked bread wafting out.

Inside, the dimly lit shop is dominated by a long table, where several singlet-clad men gather around to roll, knead and fill the buns– all by hand. Looking up, one of the elderly men direct me to their boss, pointing him out with flour-covered hands.

Mr Lai, 50, says in Mandarin: “We do everything by hand. The only thing that is done by machine is the slicing of the bread. “Even the trimming of the bread is done by hand. It’s slow, but traditional (methods) produce better-tasting food. We’ve had the same recipe since my father-in-law started this bakery over 60 years ago.”

When asked how he manages to produce enough to meet the demand, Mr Lai says with a sigh: “We can’t keep up, so we just make as many as we can.” And he makes it clear that taste is the key consideration.

He says: “After all, our regular customers like how our bread tastes and that’s what we think is important.” These traditional treats are affordable too. A loaf of bread or a pack of six buns is priced at just $1.40 or $1.50, depending on the flavour. And Mr Lai plans to keep it that way.

This article was first published in The New Paper on March 3, 2013.