Yesterday I was heading home from my job in Chinatown and decided to stop by Won Kok Restaurant (旺角酒家) on Alpine Street for a baked barbecue pork bun (叉燒包). I have been going here with my family for years, always for their baked barbecue pork buns and steamed chicken buns.
I’ve only come here during the day (apparently it’s pretty happening at night) and the only customers I have ever seen in there have been Filipino. This place is packed with Filipino families, both sitting down to eat at the restaurant and standing in line for the bakery counter. Does Won Kok advertise on Filipino TV or something? They must be doing something right.
In front of me at the bakery counter were a woman and a man, both Filipino. They did not know each other. The woman was explaining what items at the bakery counter were especially good. At one point, she said:
“Puto! The puto here is very good!”
This made me do a double-take. For those of you who aren’t well-versed in Spanish profanities, puto means male homosexual and/or prostitute. What could this woman possibly mean by saying that the puto here is very good? Thank goodness she wasn’t pointing at anyone and that there weren’t any sensitive Spanish-speakers within earshot!
What I didn’t realize until I went back home and Googled the matter was that among Filipinos, puto is a steamed rice cake, often eaten for breakfast! Won Kok does in fact make something labeled in English as “steamed rice cake.” I didn’t see the Chinese but I’m pretty sure that it refers to 白糖糕 or “white sugar cake.”
Next time I’m in a Filipino bakery, I’ll definitely give the puto a try, though I’m still not sure I can say it with a straight face.