- Yumo Pork Bao Bun Kit: yumokits.com - €34 (feeds 2-3)
Bao bun dumplings date far back into Chinese history but 3rd Century general Zhuge Liang gets credit for first popularising them. To most of us in the west, they rather burst into our consciousness thanks to the success of David Chang’s Momofuku restaurant in New York which opened in 2004. Steamed bao in different forms are found all over China (and the world’s Chinatowns) but what Chang did was serve them with pork, hoisin sauce and pickles as you might with Peking Duck, substituting bao for pancakes. In a Guardian interview in 2010 Chang admitted he robbed the idea from the Oriental Garden restaurant in Chinatown who liked to serve their Peking Duck in buns.
Bao of course can be filled with anything you wish from crispy fish to tofu and I first tasted Bao in this format at Theatre of Food at Electric Picnic thanks to a ‘Bao-Off’ between Malaysian-born Sham Hanifa of the excellent Cottage Restaurant in Leitrim and Kevin O’Toole of the much-missed Chameleon Restaurant in Temple Bar — they blew us all away and I think were declared joint winners.
So in search of good Bao and Asian treats I’ve been ordering Asian meal kits. First up was Yumo Kits (YumoKits.com) from the same people as Bao House restaurant on Aungier Street in Dublin 2, home to Taiwanese Street Food. I ordered the Classic Braised Pork Belly Bao for €28 plus €6 delivery nationwide. Also available are gyoza, wonton and dumpling kits and kimchi.
The packs are delivered on Tuesdays and Fridays and along with five homemade Bao buns there was a vacuum pack of cooked Pork Belly in a rich sauce, Pickled Cabbage, Spring Onions, Ground Peanuts and steaming parchment paper.
The pork was reheated by simmering in the bag and the Bao were fluffed up using a wok with a bamboo steamer — a standard potato steamer would also have worked.
The pork was rich and tender with classic hoi-sin sauce and soy flavours and a touch of chilli and the contrast with the almost ethereal and delicate Bao was sumptuous, the pickled cabbage, spring onion and peanut flavours adding accents. The kit fed three of us easily and is warmly recommended.
- Meal Kits By Kwanghi: kwanghi.com/home-meal-kits
- Aromatic Roast Peking Duck with Pancakes & Bao - €54.45 (feeds 4-6)
Next up were meal kits by Kwanghi, the Hong Kong-born but Donegal-raised chef behind Bowls restaurant on Parnell St. (the closest Dublin gets to a Chinatown). Kwanghi has had a side business with sauces and spice mixes for a few years now so meal kits were an obvious expansion.
He kindly sent me a test sample of his ‘Pork and Prawn Sichuan Style Won Ton’ kit a couple of months ago prior to it going nationwide and it is warmly recommended. The wontons are easy to make and perfect for involving the kids in preparing dinner.
Kwanghi’s kits sell out most weeks now and include Dan Dan Noodles, Spice Bag Chicken and Miso Fried Tofu Ramen — but we wanted to try his Peking Duck with pancakes and bao.
The kit cost €54.45 and was delivered by DPD as you might expect, and arrived still chilled with a whole cooked Aromatic Peking Duck (boned), Pastry Pancakes, 10 Bao Buns, Scallions, Cucumber, Soy Sauce and Mala Black Garlic Peanut Chili Rayu. This is twice the price of the Yumo kit but contained almost twice the quantity of food.
Roasting the duck in a hot oven for 35 minutes filled the house with aromas which were further enhanced once I slathered it with hoisin sauce and cooked it a little further before chopping and shredding it using my largest knife. The pancakes and bao were heated in a wok steamer and we filled both pancakes and buns with a smear of hoisin, a dash of Kwanghi’s intensely flavoured Black Garlic Peanut Chilli Rayu.
The rich sweet duck with crispy bits of skin mixed in with soft flesh worked better in the bao than the pancakes but both worked well. We got two dinners for three of the kit and only used half the Rayu sauce which I found also works well with fried eggs.
So was there a winner between the two? I think Yumo’s bao might have been a tad more fluffy, but it was a dead heat on the Pork vs the Peking Duck as the best filling for a bao.
Get your Bao on, soon!