Strange Snacks of the World: Wife Cake

Don't worry! It's not made from actual wives.
Don't worry! It's not made from actual wives.
Joe DiStefano

Located on the second floor of the Flushing Mall, Malaysian grocer Old Town and its staggering array of Strange Snacks never ceases to amaze. First it was Chewing Gum of the Orientals.

Recently discovered amongst a shelf of other confections: Wife Cake. Lao po bing--also known as sweetheart cake--is actually a gigantic cookie rather than a cake. Each package runs $2.25 and contains six crisp nutmeg-scented disks

The lady who runs the store says the cookies date back to the old days in China. When menfolk returned from long journeys, they would bring their wives back the gigantic sesame-studded treats.

A quick Google search reveals a much more heart-wrenching tale. Once upon a time, a poor couple lived in imperial China. In order to help fund treatment for her father-in-law's fatal illness, the wife sold herself into slavery. To buy her back, the husband concocted a pastry filled with winter melon and coconut. The treats proved so delicious that not only did he earn enough to free his wife, he saved his dying father.

The Cantonese version can be found in Chinese bakeries around town and has a flaky crust with a dense filling. Somehow in their journey across the South China Sea from Guangzhou to Malaysia, the mooncake-like confections lost their filling and evolved into the crispy cookies found at Old Town. Who knows whether the tale of filial piety is true? The cookies are delicious. Commitmentphobic men might want to think twice before bringing them home to their sweethearts, though.

Tips or other restaurant news? Let us know at fork@villagevoice.com.


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