Zhen Zheng Handmade Pau: Hidden gem selling stunning pork belly & mini animal-shaped pau in Toa Payoh
Located in the outskirts of Toa Payoh and adjacent to the well-known Kim Keat Palm Market, Zhen Zheng Handmade Pau sells adorable and hard-to-find pork belly paus (Chinese steamed buns) just bus rides down from Toa Payoh bus interchange.
My father used to buy these handmade goodies (with the name of the shop unknown to me) for my breakfast since my secondary school days.
However, it is only now that I have physically paid the stall a visit. To my astonishment, the very pau that I was so obsessed with when I was younger stood before me.
A team of chefs were in the kitchen, bearing through the heat, focused on producing handmade paus. I was reluctant to bombard the chefs with my questions so I stood aside and waited for a more convenient time.
The dough was prepped, kneaded, rolled, shaped into small balls and pressed down before a dollop of red bean paste was placed into its centre and swiftly rolled up between 2 palms.
As soon as I took out my camera, the chefs looked up, quickly laughed and scattered. The young chef explained that every item was handmade. These ranged from the steam buns piled high in the wooden baskets to dim sum offerings and fried goodies.
At this point, the queue only got longer and I quickly excused myself to join in before losing out on the products that I was hoping to buy.
What I tried at Zhen Zheng Handmade Pau
Without a doubt, the must-get item from Zhen Zheng Handmade Pau is their Braised Pork Pau (S$2). There was a distinct layer of fat and lean meat that indicated a good cut of pork belly.
I cannot emphasise how glorious it was to indulge in the bun. The heaviness of the pork belly coupled with its savoury marinade, soaked the soft bottom bun which consequently sank.
It was absolutely delightful getting into a mess while devouring this beautiful construction.
Peering into the big steamer, the Pig Pau (S$1) and Mouse Pau (S$1) which bore bright pink colours caught my eye. While the former was filled with red bean paste, the latter contained lotus paste.
Both fillings were smooth and lightly sweetened but there was perhaps too little filling. I would rather pay for a normal sized Bean Paste Pau (S$1) that encases a more generous amount of filling.
The second must-get item is their Coffee Pau (S$1). As soon as I tore open the steamed bun, a comforting coffee aroma filled my nose and tempted me to instantly take a bite. The deep brown filling was decadent and compatible with the soft pillowy buns.
The filling in the Char Siew Pau (S$1) bore a striking bright red colour. Once again, I was wowed by the hefty portion and the slightly over-sweetened gravy that exploded when I bit into it. However, I do appreciate that this gravy enabled the bun to remain moist and flavourful.
The last steam bun I bought was the Pork Pau (S$2), which contained chunks of pork and a quarter of an egg but was otherwise no different from other steam bun stalls.
Viewing the extensive dim sum menu, I had to try at least a usual dim sum option — Har Kaw (S$3). While the clear skin was sufficiently thin and the prawns were adequately seasoned, the usage of minced prawn paste instead of whole prawns resulted in a texture that simply threw me off.
If I could drag a chair over and sit to watch all the steamed buns being made from scratch, I would.
The tiresome craft requires strength, rigour and patience to ensure that the perfectly shaped morsels result in a burst of flavour in each and every piece that is sold. Then, there’s the fearsome heat that the buns have to be steamed in, which creates an extremely humid environment for the bun masters.
If you find yourself in the hub of Toa Payoh (in the morning only, of course), do give them your support and their handmade goods a shot. Trust me, you will not regret my recommendations!
Expected damage: S$1 – S$5 per pax
Fantastic Dim Sum: Hawker stall with over 30 dishes, including rainbow siew mai in truffle and abalone
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