I hate people who are not serious about their meals. -- Oscar Wilde

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Gua Bao and BaoHaus: The OG of Pork Buns

Om Nomz Hero Note to Self: Gua Bao is a prime example of Asian efficiency

When David Chang was on the rise and in the midst of building his Momofuku Empire, I remember eating at Ssam bar with my parents and we ordered the pork buns. My sister was raving about them, saying how they were the signature dish and I knew that this was the “it” thing to get. When they came my parents displayed great Asian apathy and indifference.

“What? This is just a Gua Bao. You had these before in Taiwan and other places. What’s so special about it?”

Although they said the pork buns were good, they did not see the hype and the craziness that people had for something that we had before and did not recognize that Chang did anything innovated, because Gua Baos have been around and in Taiwan. For those of you that have not realized it, the pork buns from Momofuku and now in multiple ciche and trendy Asian-influence restaurants are based on Gua Bao. Basically he took the bun and pork concept and put his own twist on it and the bao trend started. I say in the note to self that it is an example of Asian efficiency because they are a complete one handed snack and the design of the bao/bun is really like a taking one piece of bread and folding it over. So if you think about it, they are using half the amount of material and product to make a sandwich but charging the same price for a full one. Sneaky.
Gua Bao After Jump

Ehh that is tongue all right

On my trip back to Taiwan, I had to try Gua Bao here and see what the OG of buns tasted like. I had then before here when I was little either in a Chinese restaurant when we ordered off the “secret” menu and ones here at Ippudo or the Momofuku places but the Gua Bao in Taiwan was very different. The Gua Bao that I had in Taiwan was in Tainan and we went to one of the most notable place that people from Taiwan come to Tainan just to chow down on Gua Bao. It is not really a restaurant, it is more like a stall that is located on a street that is full of other stalls making other things such as the oyster omelets in a heavily traffic street. Nothing enhances the eating experience like the exhaust fumes from seas of mopeds. The Gua Bao here is a snack, but it is a hefty one and there are differences. Pork belly is a bit of a luxury cut, so although it is what you find as the standard here in New York and in the more upscalish places in Taiwan, in an open street stall they were not offering it up. They offer other cuts and offal and when I went there, I settled for pork tongue. Tongue is an underutilized piece of meat when cooked right, is flavorful and even more tender than the best filet. But I tend to keep quiet about the glorious eating of tongue; it keeps the price of it down. I saw what you suckers did to oxtail! Another difference is the addition of condiments; the only condiment on there is coarsely chopped pickled mustard green and always, a sprinkle of peanuts. It not only gives sweetness but a textural crunch, it is simply dressed and no sauce is generally added to it at all. Here in Taiwan, to help with moistness, they give you a small bowl of meaty consomm√© that is either for you to drink, or dip it in. The Gua Bao tasted great and although I do like the buns at Momofuku and even Ippudo, there is still something distinctly different about the OG Taiwanese Gua Bao. 

Enter Eddie Huang. Another Formosan, after Momofuku started gaining popularity, he opened up a restaurant, dedicated to making Gua Baos and kept it in check, making Baos at his place Baohaus. I of course had to hit this place up because I finally did not have to elbow my way through weird hipsters and do the whole sit down meal just to eat a damn bun. He represents Taiwan well but also having Apple Sidra which puts sparkling apple cider in the Dunce corner and Mr. Brown Coffee that has the distinct mascot logo of a dude that is the mix between Fidel Castro and Santa Claus. His bread and butter or bao and pork (horrible pun, sorry) is just selling Gua Baos. He not only has the basic pork belly, but does other versions with tofu and beef. The last time I went here I got 2 of the favorite ones, the Chairman Bao and the Uncle Jesse. The Chairman Bao is the basic one and the Uncle Jesse is made with Tofu. The Uncle Jesse should probably be called, “Hey Vegetarians, I want your money too” but it is actually really good. The tofu is crispy and with the addition of peanuts, pickled mustard relish and the sweet red sauce that is squirted on it is tasty. I actually like tofu and I almost liked it more than the pork. The emphasis is on the almost. The Chairman Bao (by the way, loving the names) is a nice fatty piece of pork, it is a bit on the fatty side but I never shy away from extra indulgence so this was fine by me. The Baos were a good representation and reminded me of the Bao that I had in Taiwan. Baohaus makes getting a pork bun accessible to all and not have to sit down and order a full meal and gives a taste of Taiwanese cuisine. Also anyone that is on uh medicinal greens should most definitely come here, Baohaus is open late and it will cure all side effects of medicinal green usage or overconsumption of alcoholic beverages. 

Chairman Bao and an Uncle Jesse


137 Rivington St
New York, 10002

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