Astoria Hot Borscht
Boss: Archiybold Chien
Cafe Astoria Bakery
Worth the drive from pretty much anywhere
Text and translated by Diva Yang
Photos by Andy Lin
7, WuCheng St, Sec 1
Hours: 8:30 am-8:30 pm
all year round
It was a rainy afternoon when I walked into Cafe Astoria Bakery. Though it was after lunch and long before dinner, I was surprised to see a flock of customers lining up for treats like Cream Puffs and Powdered Sugar Donuts (NT$40/each). There was also a generous amount of pushing and shoving as everyone tried to elbow their way in front of everyone else. "I drove two hours from Taichung to get here," one woman in her forties said. "And I'm not going home without a dozen cream puffs and donuts."
Apparently incidents like this have happened daily in Astoria for almost 60 years, not just the queue cacophony, but the customers traveling multiple hours to get a taste of the legendary pastries. The bakery's story starts in 1949, when Archiybold Chien met George Elsner in Taipei. The two of them, along with three other Russian migrants, began the bakery business together. As it was one of the first establishments in Taiwan to provide Western-style baked good, Astoria became an instant hit with everyone from university professors, writers and government officials, to students and housewives. Since they opened, every day has been a good day at the cafe and they have even attracted the attention of an international film maker who wants to do a piece on the Astoria's success.
And there is a reason for all of this success--the amazing pastries! One of my personal favorites is the Mazuka Walnut Cake (NT$55/slice), which is made with raisins, walnuts and longan; it goes perfectly with a mug of coffee or tea. Another favorite, Russian Marshmallow Candies (NT$150/small, NT$280/large) are best eaten frozen, after storing them in the freezer for a few hours.
Above the bakery there is Astoria Restaurant, a place where you can order a cup of coffee to go with your newly-purchased pastries. On the menu, look for Astoria Hot Borscht (NT$300), the most popular item ever since the restaurant's opening in 1950. Following the traditional recipe provided by Russian founder George Elsner 60 years ago, the borscht is stewed for two hours before it is served. If you're looking for something a little heartier, try the Chicken Quesadillas (NT$360); the spicy salsa hits the spot.
Left: Chicken Quesadillas; Right: Mazuka Walnut Cake & Russian Marshmallow Candies.