One ha’ penny, two ha’ penny: Hot and cross but the best thing on Easter

Published: April 25, 2011

The buns are often misshapen and sometimes look crushed because they are piping hot. PHOTO: BBCGOODFOOD.COM

KARACHI: 

Every Good Friday morning since 1968 Anthony Lopes has been making the trip from his home to Misquita Bakery or Lawrence and Sons Confectionery (now defunct) to buy hot cross buns for his family.

Traditionally served on Good Friday, the buns are made from spiced dough and contain dried fruits, black currants and cinnamon, among other delights. As the queues waiting to buy the pre-Easter treat are usually long, Lopes sets off a good hour and a half before the break of dawn — a practice he has followed over the years. “The queues begin forming around 5 am, sometimes earlier,” says Lopes. It usually takes him two to three hours to collect his order — between two and four dozen buns.

This year there was no let-up in the demand for the buns. James D’Souza, who has been buying these fruity treats from Misquita Bakery since the 1970s, says his previous two trips this week went abegging, as the baking trays were empty by the time he dropped by. Such was the rush this year.

D’Souza stands a few feet away from the queues where men and women jostle to reach the counter. Despite the rush, D’Souza  isn’t ready to give up or go to another bakery. “It’s a tradition,” he says, dismissing the notion that the buns sold here were tastier, fruitier or simply of better quality, as opposed to those sold elsewhere in the city.

For some though it was all about the price — and quality. A man who drives the Catholic community’s sole surviving hearse reckons that Misquita Bakery’s buns provide more bang for the buck. “At Rs192 a dozen the hot cross buns here are quite reasonable,” he says.

“At United Bakery you can buy a dozen for Rs264. Another bakery is selling them for Rs180 but it is hardly the real thing,” he says, referring to both the combination and quality of black currants and spices. Not all buyers are Christians. For old-time residents of Saddar and many students enrolled at St Patrick’s and St Joseph’s schools, hot cross buns are a familiar sight. Murtaza, a young student, says he enjoys the buns and since he knows they are only sold in the last week of Lent, the Christian fasting and abstinence period, he makes sure he buys some for himself and his family. Among the regular buyers is a Gujrati Muslim and a alumnus of St Patrick’s High School. On Good Friday morning he was perhaps the only person allowed to buy his buns out of turn, though he had waited the better part of an hour and a half.

Stephen Lobo and Brett Pereira were not as lucky and went back empty-handed. Both of them had arrived two hours later than most and daunted by the sight of the crowd they chose to leave. “By the looks of it I won’t get my turn before noon,” said Lobo, implying that if he hung around longer he would probably have to skip his day’s chores. And that is always a worry ahead of the Good Friday service — which usually begins by mid-afternoon in most churches.

Many of those who observe the obligatory fasting on Good Friday will break their fast with a hot cross bun.

Immediately after the service, Saddar’s bakeries are swamped with buyers, in scenes reminiscent of the morning and mid-morning run-ons.

Hot cross buns are intended to be piping hot, which is why they are often misshapen, some even look crushed. “But since their taste is so appealing and they have a cross made out of dough at the top, no-one seems to mind,” explains Martin Joseph. He does not seem to mind all the pushing and shoving that takes place as buyers battle to reach the counter.

An elderly man complains that the crowds have become rowdier and that today’s buyers have grown insensitive to the needs of the sick, the elderly and the infirm as they rush to gratify themselves. “I am old and sick and was treated shabbily by those in the line,” he said. “Just look at how the women are getting squashed by the crowd.”

James D’Souza can’t bring himself to join the queue. “I have told the people at the bakery so many times that they ought to start a token system and limit the number of buns sold to each customer. But, he says, nobody listens. “We seem to enjoy being disorganised, don’t we?”

Despite all the shortcomings, he says he will continue to buy hot cross buns from Misquita Bakery.

Published in The Express Tribune, April 25th, 2011.

Reader Comments (1)

  • Genia Carter
    Apr 27, 2011 - 7:14AM

    I last Karachi when I was 19 years old and no one in Canada can beat the Hot Cross Buns bought in Karachi Recommend

More in Sindh