I love xibing (喜餅), those elaborate wedding cake packages that Taiwan brides give to their friends and relatives when they get married. Even the more traditional style ones with egg yolk and pork floss.
Last week, Mr Taiwanxifu’s cousin rang to ask if we would like to participate in a group order to buy xibing. Group orders (團購) are common in Taiwan, especially amongst office workers, and can encompass anything from hormone-free pork to cakes or even clothing. Given that xibing are usually a wedding or engagement gift to the bride’s guests (never to the groom’s, they miss out!), we wondered if she and her boyfriend had a secret announcement to make. But no, for now at least the group order was only for the purpose of ordering and eating xibing. Who can say if it was really an excuse to try the product out for future engagement purposes.
Xibing are big business. Most Taipei stores stock elaborate boxes of Western style cakes and cookies to cater for the discerning bride to be, and constantly update their packaging so that there is a new style for each season. Xibing bakery storefronts can be visually stunning, with space for the bride to sit and ponder over the perfect choice of confectionary in the same way that brides in the West chose their wedding gift registry. I once walked in and purchased just one box; the staff were helpful but a little bemused as the standard order usually starts at fifty and runs into the hundreds.
But the xibing Mr Taiwanxifu’s cousin ordered were much more traditional, and much more simply decorated than those in central Taipei shop fronts. It is a weird but true fact that often the best and most well-known brands eschew elaborate packaging, presumably because they are doing such good business as it is that there is no need to update their image.
So the xibing from the Rixingdang bakery, made to a traditional handmade method in the historical town of Beigang, came in a simple red package that looked like something out of a 1960s period movie. And the photos on their website of their open-to-the-street shop shows it is worlds away from the sleek, air-conditioned and glass display case glory of Taipei xibing bakeries. No, instead this is a traditional style bakery that makes old-fashioned style xibing with flaky pastry, duck egg yolks and salty meat products (e.g. pork floss).
I first tried traditional savory/sweet xibing when I was a student living in Tainan. My homestay family had a wide circle of friends and consequently xibing were always laid-out in their front room right next to their tea making instruments. At first I was disgusted by the flavour combination: I had expected something chocolately sweet and was disappointed. But with time I have become used to the concept of putting meat in cakes. If you think about it, not so long ago many European ‘sweet meats’ also included meat products, and even today a ‘proper’ Christmas plum pudding is made with suet.
The pastry pie we consumed (酥皮狀元一斤(葷), NT$120) was definitely in the sweet/savory mould as it was made with green beans, pork floss and duck egg yolks. It reminded me a little of a European style almond flan — but with a savory aftertaste. I like how this type of cake keeps alive the traditions of the past, and am glad that many young brides are now going for the older style xibing. But while I don’t mind xibing, given a choice I would probably gravitate towards chocolate cookies instead.