Chinese New Year Puffs
By Jonathan Kauffman
Waiting in line for a custard tart at Golden Gate Bakery recently, I spotted stacks of knotted plastic bags filled with what looked like fried wontons. Was it already time for peanut puffs? The mental calendar whirred, the id followed, and I walked out with a bag of peanut puffs ($6 a dozen). Peanut puffs, or kok chai, are a New Year's sweet found throughout the Cantonese-speaking diaspora — fried dumplings stuffed with ground peanuts, sugar, and sometimes sesame seeds or coconut. Like most New Year foods, they're filled with symbolism, too. In Cantonese, peanuts can be called coeng saang gwo, or "longevity fruit."
Golden Gate's crisp kok chai, each the size of a small dumpling, are less substantial than they first appear. Each bite reveals an empty pastry, which inflated in the oil and never shrank. The insides are lacquered in a glossy, nubbly blend of peanuts and recrystallized sugar. A loud crack, the scent of toasted peanuts, just enough sweetness to encourage a second bite — a good start to the Year of the Hare.
Golden Gate Bakery: 1029 Grant (at Pacific), 781-2627.
La Oaxaqueña's Hot Chocolate
By John Birdsall
The champurrado has its fans, but it's not nearly as good as La Oaxaqueña's hot chocolate, made from blocks of Oaxacan chocolate the owner hauls back from Oaxaca City or Ocotlán. Mixed with ground almonds and cinnamon, it's dissolved in milk, then heated and frothed with the steam wand of the espresso machine — not the brooding, bittersweet sort of chocolate you sip like strong coffee, but something light and milky, all cinnamon perfume and a delicious toffee sweetness. For an extra 35 cents you can get it spiked with guajillo chile powder — invigorating in the way that makes the insides of your lips sting, except that it blots out the subtler taste of caramelized sugars that weave through this chocolate like embroidery.
La Oaxaqueña: 2128 Mission (at 17th St.), 621-5446.