The 'wow' bao!

Catching on

The 'wow' bao!

Soft, moist, fluffy and flavourful — each bite transports one into a culinary paradise and makes them yearn for more. Popular and how...that’s a ‘bao’!

A type of steamed, filled bun or bread-like item (generally made of slightly sweet refined flour dough), the ‘bao’ (also known as ‘baozi’, ‘bau’, ‘humbow’, ‘bakpao’, ‘bausak’, ‘pow’, ‘pau’ or ‘pao’) is a Chinese discovery and is making waves in the food scene, sitting pretty on almost every food enthusiast’s plate.

Every Asian country has its own history, unique name and fillings for it. What started as a traditional closed bun (resembling a dimsum) has, of late, been contemporarised as the open-faced sandwich (both are called baos). Bengalureans sure seem to be lapping up both variations, deriving heaps of gastronomic delight from the delicate white beauties.

Chef Prashanth, executive chef at The Fatty Bao, one of the first places to introduce open baos in the City, explains the trend, “Bao, as a concept, started with various meat fillings and as it evolved, the vegetarian versions started coming up. Indians appreciate Asian cuisines and the taste of the various ingredients used. The bold flavours work well with the palate and the bao makes room for innovating with these.”

He says that they use different techniques and flavours of pan-Asian cuisines to make their baos interesting. “For instance, in the ‘beef bulgogi’ bao, Korean style barbecued beef seared on a grill goes with ‘karashi’ (Japanese mustard) mayo and other fillings. Recently, we had a bao festival where we introduced the ‘kimchi potato and cheese’ bao. The fried potato and sweet, sour, spicy kimchi blended well with the cheese.” They have also created a cute ‘piggy face baozi’ for the Chinese New Year festival.

Latha V Anand, co-owner of Kylie’s-The Bao Shop, feels that Indians travelling to various Asian countries got a taste of baos there and with international restaurant chains coming to India, the bao travelled here as well and received instant recognition from people. “Till now, it was generally eaten at only fine-dining restaurants. We have attempted to make it available as an international street food and everyday snack.”

They have played around with the fillings and have open baos in Oriental flavours, those with an Indian twist and a dessert bao too. ‘Paneer takatak’, ‘tandoori laccha chicken’, ‘Apollo fish’ (Hyderabadi spicy style) and ‘kheema’ (lamb) are some of the Indian flavours while the Oriental ones include ‘ginger and soya tossed spring vegetables’, ‘teriyaki chicken’ and ‘spicy kung pao chicken’ and then there’s Continental ‘ratatouille’.

At TreeHouse Kitchen and Culture, which serves the traditional closed buns, co-owner Sriram Jagath highlights, “One can do a lot of variation with both the filling and the dough. In terms of fillings, we have the vegetarian, chicken, char siu chicken, pork and char siu pork baos. Recently, we started with ‘ragi’ baos in our specials menu — a healthier take on the dough — and they are becoming a hit!”

Calling it a fun, wholesome delicacy and a pleasant treat, Chef Stanley Lum Wah Cheok at Yauatcha says that initially they had only closed ‘chicken char siu’ buns and as the popularity of baos increased, they introduced ‘pork char siu’ and ‘vegetarian chicken char siu’ (with soy-based mock meat).

“We came up with this vegetarian version since we wanted to bring our customers closer to the experience of tasting a traditional char siu bun.” As part of the Chinese New Year special menu, they have come up with an interesting ‘cigar mantou’ bun (cigar shaped golden fried bun) with pork belly. And the experimentation seems to be on at many other restaurants in the City.

Many feel that the open-faced bao seems to have shot to popularity as a quick snack on-the-go. As Ajit Induchudan, who tried baos after moving to Bengaluru, says, “The concept of buns and meat put together impressed me. A portion of two open baos makes for a light meal and isn’t heavy on the tummy. I can have it anytime!”

Foodie Suhas Padil says that he likes both the open and closed baos, however, “The open bao, more like a taco, allows for greater variety since one can stuff in a lot of things once the bun is ready. Chef Prashanth avers with that. “In the closed bao, one can’t work with textures since the filling is sealed inside. In the open one, one can play with textures and flavours. You can add pickle, lettuce leaves, crispy shallots and more. Every bite becomes crunchier!” Soham Shoney, another bao lover, relishes both but feels that the open bao is also easy to eat. For Debolina Ray, the combination of a slightly sweet bun and a saucy, spicy filling tastes heavenly. “I like the closed baos better since they are softer and juicier. It’s easy for me to bite into and the dough has better consistency.”

Whatever be the preference, baos are spelling magic for Bengalureans and looks like they’re here to stay!

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