Full pastry shop

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The name of my favorite pastry shop in Philadelphia's Chinatown is Bǎobǐng diàn 飽餅店 (English name "Mayflower Bakery & Cafe").  They serve all sorts of Chinese pastries, cakes, buns, turnovers, etc. Their egg tarts (dàntà 蛋撻) are divine, and you can get everything at scandalously reduced prices late in the afternoon.

Nearly all of the Chinese friends who go to Bǎobǐng diàn 飽餅店 with me think the name is strange and believe that, if anything, it should be Bāobǐng diàn 包餅店, but even that seems rather odd to them.

Diàn 店 means "shop", so we won't worry about that.  Bāobǐng 包餅 would mean "bun and (flat)cake / pie / cookie / pastry", which my friends can make sense of, but they are not familiar with that wording.  On the other hand, bǎobǐng 飽餅 would mean "full (flat)cake / pie / cookie / pastry", which they have a hard time making sense of, though most of them just say, "Well, they must mean they are a shop whose (flat)cakes / pies / cookies / and pastries will / can make you full".

Oy, the joys of naming in Chinese!

Several of my acquaintances suspected that, because most Chinatowns in America are still heavily weighted toward Cantonese usages and practices, that the expression "bǎobǐng 飽餅" ("full [flat]cake / pie / cookie / pastry") might be Cantonese.  I checked with Bob Bauer to see if that were (hah!) indeed the case, and here is his reply:

When I saw this word 飽餅, I drew a blank, that is, I don't recognize it.

I've checked all my relevant Cantonese references and couldn't find it.

I've also checked my DeFrancis Chinese-English Comprehensive Dictionary and couldn't find it there.

Since there are a few "bǎobǐng diàn 飽餅店" ("full [flat]cake / pie / cookie / pastry shops") scattered around the globe, to write it that way can't be completely wrong, i.e., some people must think it's quite all right.

Here again, Bob Bauer had something pertinent to say:

I’ve just Googled 飽餅 and find that it is used in the names of a chain of Hong Kong bakeries called 飽餅王 and 飽餅皇. The English name on the shops is translated as "Bakery King".

I’m wondering if 飽餅 baau2/1 bing2 could be a kind of compound noun meaning ‘bread and cake’.

I think Bob's instinct is correct, and will explain my reasoning in the following paragraph.

I have a different theory than my friends' makeshift, forced explanation that it's a shop where the cakes, etc. make you full.  Namely, I think that someone, somewhere along the way, miswrote bāo 包 ("bun") as bǎo 飽 ("full"), thinking, "What the heck, it's something you eat, so why don't we just add the 'eat / food' semantophore?"  Maybe they did it intentionally — as a joke, to be clever (making a graphic pun that means both "bun" and "full" at the same time), or just to be different.  But maybe not.  Maybe they just made a flat-out mistake.

And so it goes in the evolution of writing systems (entrenched misspellings, miswritings, mispronunciations", etc.


Selected readings



  1. Carl said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 8:30 am

    We’re all familiar with the tradition of playful misspelling in English store names (Kwikee Mart, Stop N Go, Toys R Us, etc.). This also exists in Japan, where playful ateji can become the standard spellings eventually. (Sushi ought to be vinegared rice not longevity official.)

    Does a similar tradition exist for Hanzi?

  2. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 8:56 am

    From Zihan Guo:

    I really like your theory of it being a pun. I personally feel that 飽餅店 is visually nicer, quaint, and more consistent than 包餅店 (which looks like you stuff randomly a traditional character between two simplified ones).

  3. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 9:14 am

    From Bob Bauer:

    Please see the lexical entry “baau2/1 飽” on page 33 of the ABC Cantonese-English Comprehensive Dictionary where it is said to be an alternative written form for 包 baau1 and is defined as “bun, roll, i.e. a type of small, round-shaped bread”.

    [VHM: This additional information does not negate anything that has been said above, only enhances it.]

  4. Annie Chan said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 9:18 am

    Cantonese pastries are my guilty (and nostalgic) pleasure so I am feeling compelled to chime in. The choice of writing 飽 instead of 包 may be explained by the intention to use a near-homophonous food-specific character that carries the auspicious meaning of being sated and fulfilled (a common practice in Cantonese business nomenclature), rather than simply 包, which describes basically anything that is contained/wrapped, including non-food items.

  5. unekdoud said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 9:39 am

    The aesthetic explanation reminds me of Chinese chess / xiangqi, where your cannon is 砲 or 炮 or 包 depending on which color you're playing.

  6. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 10:39 am

    That is VERY COOL, unekdoud!

  7. Cervantes said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 1:54 pm

    BTW, a bit off topic, but when I was young John DeFrancis had a fellowship at Yale. He lived down the street from us in Madison, CT, and became a friend of my family. I didn't know anything about Chinese and didn't discuss his work with him — I was just a kid anyway — but he was a really nice, very interesting guy and he gave me some good advice about life. It's interesting to come across references to him here. I can't find any reference to the residence in CT in his biography but it was definitely him – creator of a Chinese – English dictionary. Maybe professor Mair can provide more info on this, because I see him teaching at Seton Hall and then in Hawaii during this time. He must have taken a leave.

  8. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 2:56 pm


    I'm pleased to make your acquaintance. John told me a lot about his life in New Haven, so it's nice to know someone from his neighborhood.

    This will fill you in on the key details of his career, and follow up the links for more:

    John DeFrancis, August 31, 1911-January 2, 2009


  9. Victor Mair said,

    May 3, 2021 @ 3:15 pm

    From TzeHuey Chiou-Peng:

    What would you say about “飽餐” ("to eat to the full") , 飽 as a verb in this case?

    My reading on 飽餅店 goes as something like “A shop to fill one’s tummy with pastry”.

  10. Cervantes said,

    May 4, 2021 @ 6:12 am

    Thanks Prof. Mair, but I actually don't see anything in your obit about time living in CT. I'm still not sure where that fits in.

  11. DMcCunney said,

    May 4, 2021 @ 6:59 am

    I grew up in Philly, and spent a bit of time in Chinatown there. (I moved to NYC in the later 70s.)

    My reference for Mayflower was my crowd's favorite restaurant called the Mayflower.

    As I understood the backstory, the founder had been an importer based in San Fransisco, spending half his time in SF and the other half in mainland China. He was arrested and put in jail by the PRC. (At a guess, he failed to grease an important palm.) When he was finally released, he moved his family as far away from the Chinese mainland as he could, and opened a restaurant. Calling the restaurant the Mayflower was an explicit reference to William Penn's flagship, when he lead his people to a new land where they could practice their faith without opposition.

    Oldest son was the chef, was trained in Honk Kong, and the Mayflower served Mandarin and Sichuan cuisine. One evening a group of folks I knew called and reserved the restaurant after there were nominally closed, walked in, and said "Feed us!" Dishes emerged from the kitchen. None were familiar. All were wonderful. At the end of the meal, the chef emerged to the kitchen to a standing ovation. He explained that while he was trained in Hong Kong, he was Cantonese. He felt that Cantonese food had a poor reputation because what was served was Cantonese *peasant* food. He had cooked Cantonese Middle Class food. Lots of people who looked down on Cantonese food started re-calibrating their taste buds.

    When I was back in Philly for a function in 2000, I went to Chinatown for a meal but the Mayflower was no longer there. I have to wonder if "Mayflower Bakery & Cafe" has any sort of direct relationship to the restaurant whose hot and sour soup remains my reference for "how this is done."

  12. Victor Mair said,

    May 4, 2021 @ 7:39 am


    John was born and grew up in Bridgeport, which is just southwest of New Haven, and he attended Yale for college, so that's when he was living in Connecticut.

    The NYT and Yale Daily News obit links in my post are unfortunately broken, but the third one still works:


  13. Cervantes said,

    May 4, 2021 @ 8:15 am

    Oh no, this was long after he attended Yale as an undergrad. He was already a renowned scholar. This was some sort of scholarly residency, perhaps after he retired from teaching in Hawaii. As best I can remember I was in high school and/or college while he lived near us, which would put it in the '70s.

  14. Victor Mair said,

    May 4, 2021 @ 8:20 am

    John went back to Yale / New Haven several times for various research projects.

  15. Cervantes said,

    May 4, 2021 @ 10:11 am

    Okay. I think he kept the house in Madison for quite a while, maybe lived in it intermittently. I was away at school so would only see him in the summer — when he was probably least likely to be in Hawaii.

  16. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 4, 2021 @ 2:04 pm

    @DMcCunney — The Mayflower reference may have been chosen because it was considered the most notable early ship to bring colonists from England to North America, landing in what is now Massachusetts, but the flagship that William Penn sailed on was called the Welcome.

    More here, for those interested:

  17. Philip Taylor said,

    May 4, 2021 @ 2:16 pm

    I believe that the broken links in Victor's obituary for JDF may be found here (NYT) and here (Yale Daily News).

  18. DMcCunney said,

    May 6, 2021 @ 8:35 am

    @Barbara Phillips: Memory failed me. Thank you for the correction. Calling the Mayflower Penn's flagship was an error.

    I'd still love to know whether the Mayflower Bakery and Cafe Victor mentioned has any relationship to the Mayflower restaurant I ate at.

  19. floriana said,

    May 6, 2021 @ 2:20 pm

    I asked my students in my methods class if they wanted to see an EEG experiment from the participant side and they thought it would be a good idea. I had been talking about the difference between exploratory and confirmatory science anyways,
    Ethics approval is another topic; you will find that standards vary wildly here. Sorry neither I must admit I do not have much to say here. I graduated as Psychologist and I am proud of it. y students follows my directions and I experiment a lot.
    My name is Floriana inAvezzano
    Bye bye

  20. M. Paul Shore said,

    May 6, 2021 @ 10:37 pm

    Prof. Mair: Thank you for pointing out, at the end of the article, the problem of entrenched misspellings and entrenched mispronunciations in long-established writing systems.

    In English, the entrenched misspelling that irritates me the most is "therefore", which rationally ought to be spelled "therefor", and which I've contemplated spelling the latter way in my own writings regardless of tradition. The entrenched mispronunciation that irritates me the most is the grammatically illogical spoken phrase "short-livvd" as a performance of the written "short-lived", a spelling that was obviously created to capture, though only in a precariously context-dependent way, the all-too-rarely-heard grammatically logical spoken phrase that's pronounced "short-lyved". (If you have a short knife, you're short-knived; if you have a short wife, you're short-wived; if something has a short life, it's short-l[y]ved.)

    In general, I've grown so disgusted with English spelling that I've contemplated, for my correspondence with friends and family and for my contemplated future autobiography–making the switch to a linguistically rational spelling system, perhaps even creating my own, or my own version of someone else's, if I can't find an existing one that I fully like. I envision an alphabet expanded to forty-plus characters, complemented by a few diacritics. My attitude will be "If you want to know what I have to say, you're gonna have to put up with the way I've chosen to spell it".

  21. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 7, 2021 @ 8:29 pm

    @M. Paul Shore — I am not sure your parallel examples with “short-lived” are precisely parallel. For instance, short-wived could mean “married for a short time.”

    In the U.S. English I am familiar with, the words wife (noun) and wive (verb) have the same long i. The word life (noun) has the same vowel, but live (verb) has a shorter i. You can search the words and hear the pronunciations I am familiar with on the Merriam-Webster dictionary site. The pronunciation of short-lived that I am familiar with seems to be based on the way the verb form is pronounced.

    Searching online for “short-knived” and “short-wived” did not yield examples.

    Regarding therefor and therefore, both forms are in Merriam-Webster. Brian A. Garner, in Garner’s Modern American Usage, explains that the two words are different and are differentiated in legal documents. He says therefore “means ‘for that reason, consequently.’ It’s the usual word.” Garner notes therefore is stressed on the first syllable, and therefor is stressed on the last syllable. The meaning of therefor is given as “‘for that’ or ‘for it ” The disambiguation is in section C of the entry for “therefore.”

  22. Barbara Phillips Long said,

    May 7, 2021 @ 8:51 pm

    Correction: It is Bryan A. Garner (not Brian) who is the author of Garner’s Modern American Usage. My apologies.

  23. M. Paul Shore said,

    May 8, 2021 @ 6:13 pm

    DMcCunney and Barbara Phillips Long: I tried the experiment today of doing a Web search on "Mayflower Chinese restaurant", and it turns out that there are dozens of Chinese restaurants in the English-speaking world that use "Mayflower" in their name–sometimes spelling it "May Flower"–with most of them being in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. The prevalence of the name both inside and outside the U.S. suggests that, at least in most cases, the famous ship the Mayflower is not the eponym.

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