Shop 4/19-37 A’Beckett Street
Melbourne VIC 3000
+61 3 9654 7887
It seems like the latest food craze to sweep Melbourne like the Storm did over the Bulldogs is the humble bao (包). The white, fluffy steamed bun may have been around for as long as the BSC girls stayed in the eighth grade but like all things from the 80s and 90s these days, there seems to be some sort of bao revival.
Recently and in the space of a month, two separate bao eateries have opened up in the city. The first of the two is Wonderbao, located in the newly formed arcade on a newly formed laneway opposite RMIT University. The second one, Bao Now, is on Hardware Street and I’m hoping to pay a visit sometime this week seeing as it’s not too far from my work. This morning, I went to Wonderbao. ‘Wait Libby, this morning?’ I hear you ask. Yep, I know such a high turnover is pretty unusual for this blog but enjoy it while you can okay?
Thankfully at Wonderbao, high turnovers are NOT a rarity. When I was there, the tiny eatery was packed to the rafters and baos were flying in and out of the giant bamboo steamers. There was no room for me to sit inside and the horrible, horrible Melbourne weather kept patrons away from the crate tables outside so I had no choice but to take away.
The default drink is homemade soy milk (either hot or cold) but you can get ‘F.O.B. drinks’ from the fridge if you feel like a small box of Chrysanthemum, winter melon, green and lemon tea from the Yeo’s line ($1.60).
Meanwhile, the menu is short, simple yet full of exciting meat and vegetarian options to keep everyone happy. The traditional da bao buns are ready to pluck, the gua bao ones are made to order which probably explained my almost 10 minute waiting time. While most of the patrons were patient (there were some who had been waiting longer than I have), I’m sure I wasn’t the only person wondering why there was only one person putting the bao into the boxes and only one person manning the counter.
But never mind. Here is the first bao I sampled, the roast pork belly gua bao ($3.80). The word ‘gua bao’ means sliced wrappers and this hybrid bao/taco snack is extremely popular in Taiwan, but was made famous by Momofuku. Wonderbao’s version came garnished with cucumber, pickled carrots, daikon and hoisin sauce – I’d dare say that his hybrid bao/taco has splashes of banh mi in it too!
Even though the pork belly had no crackling, the meat was tender and went well with the pickled carrots and the cucumber, with the hoisin sauce holding everything together beautifully.
The next two buns are more similar to what Melburnians are probably used to. I ordered a chicken da bao and a pork da bao ($3.20) and carried them up to my office.
The chicken one contained a quarter of a hardboiled egg and a piece of shiitake mushroom, and bits of water chestnut in between. It was a tasty bao and one that filled me up until the late afternoon, but I felt that there was something missing in it. Give me Nam Loong’s chicken bao any day.
The pork version was a little bit better, probably because there was one slice of Chinese sausage in it in addition to the egg and the mushroom that the chicken one also had. It tastier than the chicken bao but again, Nam Loong wins the prize for taste and price.
My homemade soy drink was served hot in a takeaway coffee cup ($2.80). It was thick, creamy and not overloaded with sugar like the ones you get at Asian grocery stores.
While Wonderbao’s da bao aren’t the best in Melbourne, they are still pretty damn good and provide a great carb-loaded snack in the early hours of the morning. I did like their roast pork belly gua bao a lot better though and I’ll definitely be back to try their braised pork gua bao as well as their tofu one. I will also return to see how their char siu bao fare with Melbourne’s best and may also be tempted to sample their dessert range (egg custard and taro, at $1.70).