If you've never seen a taro bun, you're not alone. This root-stuffed baked bun was new to most of us as well. As we keep making our way through Chinatown's bakeries, we're surprised at how good these buns can be.
Our favorite so far comes from Fay Da, one of the only Chinese bakeries that has locations outside of Chinatown and Flushing, reaching places as close to home as the West Village and as far out as China. The Mott Street Fay Da is one that bakes its buns on-site, so be aware that they may differ slightly from other locations.
Their bun ($1.10) features a sweet, vividly purple filling that's similar (if not identical) to the filing in their outstanding taro puffs. Instead of flaky pastry though, this bun surrounds the earthy taro with soft bread, which earns high points for both its texture and light sweetness. The bun is brushed with egg wash and topped with a few sliced almonds before baking, which renders it a deep, shiny gold and provides an occasional, satisfyingly nutty crunch. The filling is smooth and not too starchy, sweeter than red bean but less so than custard, cream, or coconut buns.
For a more natural take on taro bun (i.e. no food dye), we like the version at Grand 1 Bakery ($1). Its filling is a pale lavender that comes completely from mashed taro root. There's just enough sugar to accent the natural sweetness of the taro without transforming it from a mild breakfast bun to a dessert treat. The bread here is also great: fluffy and moist, with a golden veneer. While at first glance it looks like the bread to filling ratio is high, the taro flavor is surprisingly prominent, made even more so by the slightly chunky filling. This is real-deal taro and something we'd gladly have for breakfast on the way to work.