I felt like writing a short and sweet blog post today, so what better to write it on than the short and sweet offerings of Taiwanese street food vendors BAO? I’ve been wanting to big-up these guys for ages and thought this was as good a time as any.
BAO run a market stall as part of the KERB street food collective (of which I am also a huge fan), as well as a food bar at Netil Market in Hackney on Saturdays (to which I haven’t been). BAO are best known for their pork-filled Taiwanese milk buns, which if you’re unfamiliar with the cuisine are probably unlike anything you’ve ever tasted. These small white buns are made using Tang Zhong Starter (a water and bread flour roux, from what I can tell) and milk, then steamed to create an incredibly soft and fluffy texture. Once you’ve gotten past your amazement at the bun, the filling hits you for another six.
The classic gua bao is filled to bursting with slow-braised shredded pork belly, doused in a sweet BBQ-like marinade that will run all over your fingers, but you won’t care. The pork is perfectly complemented by pickles, peanut powder and fresh coriander, which lend the bun a deliciously fresh, nutty and zingy kick, as well as further interesting textures. The bun is no more than a few large bites in size, but each one of those bites is like a party in your mouth! The gua bao is the first thing I tried from BAO and I’ve gone back for it again and again, as at just £3.50 a pop it’s very difficult to resist!
A newer addition to the menu is the confit pork belly bao, which in place of shredded pork belly has a large slab of it. This is topped with crispy shreds of dried shallots and slathered in Taiwanese hot sauce. So soft and silky is the pork belly that it just melts in your mouth, fat and flesh running into one. The sauce is not that spicy but has a lovely sweet kick to it. All in all this bun is another luscious taste experience, though for me it still doesn’t beat the original gua bao. This bun cost £4 when I had it — worth every penny for such high quality!
In addition to buns, BAO also makes amazing soya-milk fried chicken. This comes as juicy nuggets of soft and flavoursome thigh meat, marinaded in soya milk (I suspect this gives it its sweetness and moistness) and twice-fried to create a tasty crunchy coating. The nuggets are served in a paper bag, drizzled with a thick hot sauce that’s rich, sweet and tongue-tinglingly spicy.
On their website, BAO say they consider their ingredients and where they come from very carefully (some of them imported from Taiwan) and try to make everything, including their soya milk, by themselves. I think this fastidiousness and passion really pays off in the quality of their inexpensive food. Have you tried BAO’s food, or do you think you’ve found something better? Tell me in the comments!