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Wife Cake: Origins of Hong Kong Sweetheart Cake

Chinese cuisine is multi-layered not only with a wide range of flavors, but the stories behind many Chinese recipes.  There is a mystique that surrounds the origin of certain Chinese recipe names, especially Lao Pao Bing (Wife Cake or Sweetheart cake).

Did you know?  There are three aspects that play a primary role in the name of a Chinese dish:
1.    How the recipe looks once it is cooked (e.g., ants climbing a tree noodles)
2.    Who supposedly invented the dish or caused the dish to be invented (e.g., kung pao chicken, husband cake)
3.    How the dish is made (e.g., crossing the bridge noodles)

The Chinese Name, Lao Pao Bing (老婆饼), is translated as old lady cake.  However, it is known as wife cake or sweetheart cake in Chinese bakeries.  Originating from Hong Kong, its main ingredients include: winter melon, almond paste, sesame, flour, water and butter. 

The most popular version of the story behind the wife cake is:

During imperial China, a husband and wife are very rich in the amount of love for each other, but very poor in material wealth.  The wife’s father-in law falls ill and requires medical attention.  Unfortunately, the couple does not have enough money.  The wife gives the ultimate gift of love - by selling herself as a slave to fund the medical care for her father in law.  When the husband finds out, he creates a pastry with sweetened winter melon and almond – dedicating the pastry to the memory to his wife.  The wife cake (lao po bing) gains such popularity that the husband is able to buy his wife back and cure his father of his ailment.


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