Boom, Boom, Bao

Boom, Boom, Bao

Mix A Lot said it best: “we don’t want none unless you’ve
got buns hun.” Though he may have been referring to something
entirely different, the lyrics ring true for the Taiwanese
restaurant-to-be, BAO, whose steamed buns really are something to sing

Taking the leap from Hackney’s Netil Market to Soho’s colourful
restaurant community, the BAO trio look likely to liven things up,
bringing Taiwanese street food off the streets and into a permanent
space. Shing Tat from the BAO trio spoke to SUITCASE about
Taiwanese cuisine and its new adventure in Soho.

How did BAO come to be?

The three of us – myself, my partner Erchen and my sister Wai
Ting – started Bao in 2013. We travelled around Taiwan eating up
everything along the way. My parents have always been in the
restaurant business so Wai Ting and I have always had the passion
to open up a restaurant. Erchen is from Taiwan, so after our food
pilgrimage we were all very excited about Taiwanese food and it
became an obsession to bring our excitement about the food to

Where do you draw inspiration from when experimenting and
creating your menu items?

ST: We frequently travel back to Taiwan to keep
us in touch with the food culture. We’re also a bit addicted to
searching for places that through time perfect their one dish.
Whether it’s our favourite turkey rice on a road stop in Tainan or
a baozi place near the mountains in Yilan. Tradition and processes
are very important to us, but creativity and refinement also play a
big part. When creating the menu, we have a mix of classics and
dishes that are created and inspired, not only by Taiwanese food,
but also by food that we were brought up on. Wai Ting and I are
from a Cantonese background but we also base some of our menus on
English produce.

What drew you to the task of perfecting the steamed bun in

I remember vividly the first time we tasted the combination of
our classic and we were hooked – the savoury saltiness of the
braised pork, with the sourness of the pickles and sweetness of the
peanut powder balanced harmoniously. Although, the magic moment
came when we were visiting a baozi place near the mountains. It was
a large baoz but it was light and soft and it literally felt like
there was nothing in my stomach. It was amazing and a definitive
point along the journey where we thought, ‘right, we have got to
try and find a way to reproduce that texture.’ Buns aside, in the
restaurant we will have a larger selection of dishes. Of course the
focus is on baos, but we’ll be doing other classic xiaochi (small
eats) like pig blood cake or sweet potato chips with plum

What do you think is special about Taiwanese street food
compared to other cuisines?

It’s a food culture that isn’t well represented here. I think
there is only around 5-6 Taiwanese restaurants in London. It’s
quite hard to summarise why a whole cuisine is special, but there
are flavour combinations that are classic but unique. A classic one
is the combination of peanut powder and coriander and Thai basil
infused into soy-based sauces. Taiwan has a lot of Japanese flavour
profiles as it was occupied for fifty years, and was also occupied
by Portugal and China, so there’s a real mixture of flavours coming

How would you describe Taiwanese street food culture in Taiwan?
How is the food culture in London different?

Taiwanese street food is integral to the culture, with street
markets playing a large role in daily lives. Due to more free
licensing, you’ll find vendors dotted around on every street
corner. The street food culture here is more about events with most
being paired up with music and drinks – some even charging entrance
fees. It’s changing though. We are seeing an increase in markets
that are integrated into people’s daily routines.

Transitioning from a small six seater bar to a full seated
restaurant in an area unfamiliar to Taiwanese cuisines is a big
step. What is driving you to make such a move?

I don’t think that Taiwanese Cuisine being unfamiliar is a
hurdle, especially in a city like London. It’s our passion and
hobby, not only to cook the food we love to eat, but also to create
the atmospheres and ambience that represent a type of food or a
style of eating. The six seater BAO Bar is a very cosy wooden hut
that serves a limited menu and is very special to us. The
restaurant represents a different ambience. There’s an abundance of
creativity in all these processes that makes creating, making,
designing and cooking a very rewarding process.

What is your hope in bringing BAO to Soho, the heart of eating
out in London?

We want to have fun with our food and bring affordable yet
refined and sometimes creative food to a location that is in the
centre of it all. We are all very excited to be part of that

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