For his mother’s 90th-birthday celebration at Chinese restaurant Peony Jade at Keppel Club last month, retiree Victor Lim ordered longevity buns.
He did not expect them to be so well-received by his guests.
The 63-year-old, who booked 16 tables for the occasion, says the longevity buns display was so exquisite that many of his relatives took photos of the buns to post on social media. His guests also ate all 168 buns.
It was a very different scene from 10 years ago, when his mother celebrated her 80th birthday at another venue. Then, Mr Lim recalls, the guests were groaning by the time longevity buns were served at the end of the meal.
He says: “In the past, longevity buns were not very appetising as many had a thick skin and were tough to chew.
“Now, it is good to see chefs coming up with longevity buns that are not just beautifully presented, but also tasty. It helps to preserve this Chinese tradition and cultural aspect of celebrating birthdays.”
Peony Jade started creating special shou bao (longevity buns) with premium fillings like Mao Shan Wang durian, salted egg custard, sweet yam paste and even Valrhona chocolate in 2009.
Since then, the restaurant has continued to improve the presentation and taste of its handcrafted longevity buns.
It receives bespoke orders for longevity buns almost weekly. Special requests have included personalised calligraphy in poems to accompany the presentation.
Mr Robert Han, 59, group general manager of The Quayside Group, which owns Peony Jade, says: “Longevity buns are a Chinese tradition and if we do not uphold our timeless classics like shou bao, shou mien (longevity noodles) with red eggs and other age-old heritage foods, the younger generation will not get to savour these traditional items.”
Other restaurants have also come up with modern interpretations of the traditional longevity bun.
Master chef Chung Lap Fai of Hua Ting Restaurant at Orchard Hotel came up with the idea of presenting the longevity buns on a peach tree stand.
The 54-year-old found a stainless- steel stand in Guangzhou, China, to represent a peach tree stem during an overseas trip and added hanging miniature carriers to contain the peach-shaped buns. The leaves are made from dough.
The restaurant launched its new presentation of longevity buns when it reopened after renovations last year.
It says the Instagram-worthy presentation has delighted customers of all ages.
Apart from aesthetics, chef Chung has also expanded the variety of fillings for customers to choose from. In addition to the traditional lotus seed paste, other fillings include custard, sweet yam paste and even savoury kurobuta char siew.
At the Paradise Group of Restaurants, marketing communications manager Lin Sifang, 33, notes an increase in the demand for customised orders of longevity buns in the past two years.
The buns are available at Taste Paradise, Paradise Teochew and Seafood Paradise.
For those who want tradition in a birthday cake, Antoinette can custom-make cakes in the shape of longevity buns. Chef Pang Kok Keong, 42, says the patisserie started receiving special requests for such cakes when it opened seven years ago.
It takes about 10 hours to craft a 3kg cake priced at $650.
This article was originally published in The Straits Times.
Photo: Antoinette, Crystal Jade, Hua Ting Restaurant, Pan Pacific Singapore, Paradise Group, Peony Jade & The Fullerton Hotel