On a rainy January afternoon, I set out to find Sometimes Red Bean [有時候紅豆餅], a small shop in Minsheng Community that sells hot wheel cakes.
I really couldn’t resist. After seeing their retro logo in my Instagram feed too many times, I wondered, was this simply the latest Instagram-worthy food story of the season?
It turns out the cute shop, which opened in 2014, is ridiculously photogenic. Better yet, the hot wheel cakes are worth the 50% markup compared to other stands. Don’t freak out. The hot wheel cakes are still a steal at 15NT each here, compared to 10NT elsewhere.
There are just four items on the menu so if you want to order everything, it’ll add up to less than 100NT. Yes, that’s around US$3.
The 20-something owner of Sometimes Red Bean was a graphic designer who built up the entire brand from scratch. He created everything from the logo and packaging, to the store design, to the hot cake recipes.
After investing 400,000NT on the renovation and equipment, the business now brings in 300,000NT per month with daily sales of around 700 hot wheel cakes.
And in an ingenious move, the shop operates rent-free at his grandmother’s old residence. The space has a pleasant courtyard that encourages customers to sit and chat in warmer weather.
The location is great. Across the street is Minsheng Park. A couple of doors down is the SunnyHills shop with all the foot traffic it brings…
So how do the hot wheel cakes taste? I ordered the custard flavor for 15NT and loved it. The shell was the crispiest I’ve had and the filling actually tasted like dairy, unlike the night market versions where the filling consistency has been highly questionable.
A little research revealed the shop sources premium ingredients including large red beans from Pingtung County in southern Taiwan, where a lot of hot wheel cake vendors source their red beans.
More impressive is the New Zealand milk powder and fresh eggs used for the custard cakes. The potatoes for the potato cheese cakes are peeled daily by the owner and his girlfriend. I’ll be back again soon to try it.
There’s a lot of charm in the fact this young guy is working hard to produce this simple product well.
It’s the exact same thing as what their neighbor SunnyHills was doing when they first started. That is, take a favorite childhood snack and make a version that’s heads and shoulders above any other store in Taipei.
When I was there, a young mother and son were buying a bag of hot wheel cakes. The kid was wearing his school backpack and rainboots. The young mother had her umbrella in one hand, the paper bag of cakes in the other.
You could imagine the exact same scene taking place 5, 10 or 20 years ago. And hopefully it’ll still be happening 5, 10 and 20 years from now.