Sweet Malaysian freebies at closing time

Once upon a time, there were a number of bakeries across New York City that would offer deeply discounted baked goods within 30 minutes to an hour of closing. Manna House Bakery on Mott Street in Chinatown used to offer all pastries and bao at 50% off if you arrived about 30 minutes before their closing time; I only found this out by chance when I popped in one evening many years ago, and the lady behind the counter quoted me half of the amount that I was expecting to owe. The much loved and venerated Balthazar Bakery would offer their elaborate pastries for a discounted amount, and sometimes they even had random grab bags that would have a set (low) price. Eventually, though, all good (and cheap) things come to an end, and both bakeries put a halt to their slashed pre-closing prices.

I was reminded of this last night when I was in the East Village for dinner with a friend. On our way to the subway station, we passed by Lady Wong, one of the best (and rare) fancy bakeries in the city for Malaysian-inspired desserts, including the famous kuih. As we stepped in, we weren’t sure if they were still open, so we asked. The man behind the counter looked up, greeted us and said he would still be open for five more minutes. Then, he smiled and said, “Take it all!” We thought he was just joking given the closing time. So we each chose two items each and paid. As we were about to leave, he looked at us quizzically.

“You don’t want any kuih? I’m serious: if you don’t want it, I will throw it all out! You can take whatever you want, just tell me which ones…. just not the serimukkah because those are my favorite.” He smiled as he said this. He explained that it was highly unusual to have this much leftover at the end of the day; usually, they are almost sold out. But today was a weird day with the grey, cool weather, and they didn’t get as much foot traffic as they normally do. He couldn’t eat all of the remaining kuih, nor would he be selling them the next day. So my friend and I got really excited and told him which ones we’d like. He got them all ready in two separate boxes for each of us.

We thanked him profusely, and being very Asian, he brushed us off. “It’s okay… if you didn’t take them, they’d just be going into the trash bin!” he insisted. As he was boxing these up for us, a group of friends walked in, obviously having read about the place since two of them were explaining to their friends that this spot was “known for Malaysian dessert.” The guy behind the counter, who I *think* is one of the co-owners, told us in a near-whisper, “Don’t say anything, okay?” So in other words, he was going to give us all these freebies, but he definitely had plans to charge these folks!

We walked out with our paid and free sweets. I wasn’t sure what cracked me up more, the fact that he said we could take any of the kuih, *except* the serimukkah since they were his favorites, or that he was happy to give us these freebies, but was planning to charge the other group of people who came in after us!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.