By Blair Schulman
Most New Yorkers claim to know Ťthis great little placeÓ where they can get something cheap, with that ŤsomethingÓ likely to be anything from hot New Balance sneakers to a blowjob. And itÁs true; one of the joys of the city is discovering for yourself that secret shop where all your cheapskate dreams come true. For myself, a dollar and a dream is all I need to feed my soul when I bite into a famous Chinatown sweet the egg custard tart. Often two for a bean, this is one of the best bangs for your buck below Bowery.
With scores of pastry shops scattered throughout Chinatown and its environs, the choices are massive but the pickings are slim; with the great unwashed coming through the doors in great waves, quality sometimes takes a backseat to quantity. On a Sunday afternoon you can walk into any random bakery south of Canal and wait on line with twenty New Jerseyans who ask the women behind the counter to describe everything every single item behind the counter. Those are the places you just have to walk out of, and take your empty pockets over to Tai Tan right on Canal Street at Lafayette. If you arenÁt waylaid by a cheap leather belt or a low-grade burn of the latest Beck CD for sale in front of the bakery, at Tai Tan you will find a custard Nirvana.
Tiny golden tarts, about the size of a silver dollar but only fifty cents each, with the flakiest, butteriest crust imaginable, that take three bites to finish off. Go ahead. YouÁve got another one waiting. ItÁs hard to believe that after making hundreds of these a week, thousands per month, this bakery still manages to deliver crusts that flake and break apart all over your shirt just by looking at them. Once you stop contemplating and start eating, each bite is greeted with a stanched river of creamy egg custard and a deep yellow crown fortified with just enough sugar to give it sweet cred.
If you arrive when a batch is coming out of the oven, each tart is topped by a small pool of liquid sugar. The whole thing resembles a Spanish flan, with the same silky texture, but without the supersweet bite. ItÁs worth breaking any diet and diabetes be damned. For the same price as a stale Kit Kat, you can feel like youÁve spent nothing much on something grand. Buy a dozen and be a hero to your friends. Or better yet, in this Year of the Horse, be a pig and keep them all for yourself with a glass of cold milk and a rerun of I Love Lucy. If you can keep your hands out of the bag on the way home, that is.
Tai Tan 194 Canal Street 212-732-2222
Blair Schulman is the author of ŤLove Letters to Myself,Ó and the Contributing American Editor for EuropeÁs popular ŤDivas ķ The Site.Ó A New York-based writer, his caffeinated commentary has appeared in the New York Post, The New York Times and Kansas CityÁs art journal REVIEW.
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