If you’ve been to restaurants Flesh & Buns, On The Bab, and Bao, you’ll be familiar with Bao buns. These little, fluffy, edible clouds of light and doughy yumminess pack a sweet and savoury punch in one hit. Described as “pillows of joy”, it’s the ability of these little pockets to be the perfect vessel for all sorts of fillings which has fuelled their popularity, appearing in all our favourite supermarkets.
Steamed buns – known as baozi, humbow, nunu, bakpau, bausake and pow, as well as bao – are popular in East Asian countries such as Korea, Taiwan, China and Japan and have been a mainstay of the street food scene for some time (award-winning Yum Bum in Old Spitalfields Market pops up at feasts and festivals and has three outlets in London that are well worth a trip). When it comes to a quick foodie fix, it seems we’re all lining up down the street and around the corner.
Flesh & Buns’ chef Ross Shonhan is such a fan, he opened a restaurant specifically in which to serve them, and it’s now a mainstay of the capital’s food scene. “People started seeing bao buns on their travels, from Northern China and Taiwan to South Japan and New York. With social media images popping up on their accounts, people soon decided they wanted what their friends had on the other side of the world!”
Ross compares a bao bun to a piece of white bread – indulgent, simple yet able to carry a variety of flavours. “In our latest restaurant Flesh & Buns Fitzrovia, we’ve installed a smoker oven and the smoked brisket with chipotle and miso sauce is proving a hit.”
When it comes to making your own bao buns at home, consider how you balance your flavours and textures. “There’s a reason our crispy piglet belly and crispy duck are so popular,” adds Ross. “The sweet stickiness of the sauces works well with the lightness of the bao bun. Add to that the acidity and texture of pickles, and you have a successful contrast in both taste and texture.”
How to DIY your bao buns at home…
Marks & Spencer ready-to-fill buns are available in store. All you need to do is pop them in the microwave and fill them up.
Lots of supermarkets have ready-made slow-cook ranges which work brilliantly for fillings, such as the Vietnamese slow-cooked pork belly; you can add a quick pickle made of finely shredded carrots, cucumber and radish steeped in a little lime juice and rice wine vinegar.
Why not try ready-to-eat chilli and coriander king prawns, warmed through in the frying pan and served with crushed avocado, fresh coriander leaves, a drizzle of mayo, squeeze of lime and a sprinkle of dried fresh chilli?
For vegetarians, try using shitake mushrooms. Brown the mushrooms in a frying pan, add a splash of hoisin sauce and warm it through. Add more sauce to your bun, stuff with the mushrooms, some pickled vegetables, peanuts, spring onions and coriander.
Waitrose & Partners School of Wok Bao Bun Kit has everything you need to make your bun from scratch and instructions on how to knead, shape and steam your little cloud ready to be filled. You don’t even need a steam basket.
If you want to make your buns properly, this is the steamer to go for. Afterall, who doesn’t need another gadget in the kitchen?