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Jade Seafood was supposed to be the highlight of my recent Richmond eat-around. And it very well might have been had I not found myself

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Wife Cakes to Have and to Hold

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Jade Seafood was supposed to be the highlight of my recent Richmond eat-around. And it very well might have been had I not found myself with an hour to kill before returning to the train station.

One of my dining companions, Fernando Medrano - a savvy civilian eater who generously posts his findings on the Wise Monkeys blog - suggested I use my extra time to visit Kam Do, a bakery renowned for its wife cakes.

A wife cake, sometimes called a sweetheart cake, is a traditional Cantonese pastry filled with winter melon paste. There are various stories explaining how the treat got its name, but the most popular one holds that a man was so poor he had to sell his wife into slavery; he bought her back with profits from his winter melon cakes. Or maybe a man couldn't find his wife after she was enslaved, but finally located her when he spied her signature winter melon cake in a tea house. In any case, it's life-changing pastry.

And that's especially true at Kam Do, where the round, golden cakes are miraculously flaky (although I suspect the miracle here may be performed by a pig, since the cakes had the lightness and creamy quality that comes from lard.) The mildly sweet, sticky filling was lovely, but it was the crackled cake's texture that got me. I don't believe anyone's made such a fuss over flake since Loretta Lynn peddled Crisco.

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Fernando termed this wife cake wreckage "Kam Do schrapnel."
Almost immediately after finishing my cake - and an equally good purple taro cake, pretty as a blown-glass Christmas ornament - I e-mailed our contributor (and longtime Vancouver explorer) Naomi Bishop to ask whether Kam Do was an open secret in Seattle. I feared I might be raving at length about an institution as familiar as Dick's. "Rave away," she assured me. "It's not at all well known among Seattleites."

Kam Do has a full kitchen, although eaters in the know recommend sticking to the pastry case. Whether you're buying fried rice or red bean cakes, the restaurant only takes cash, so pack your wallet accordingly.

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