Trying My Hand at Making Bao Burgers

After a long while, I finally had the opportunity to try making my own Chinese-style bao burgers. The verdict? Pretty tasty and easier than I expected!

One of my favorite restaurants in the word is Little Bao in Hong Kong. (Read my review of it.) They are one in a crowd of restaurants doing more modern twists on the Chinese (specifically, Taiwanese) gua bao, steamed flour buns folded in half around pork belly, braised chicken, or other fillings.

P1280602A spicy fried chicken with garlic black bean mayo and scallion coleslaw bao from Little Bao in Hong Kong.

The conceit at Little Bao is that instead of a folded bun, they make their bao more like hamburger buns. This makes it possible to include more tasty fillings, offering a better balance of bread to filling. It was that hamburger-like quality that I wanted to achieve.

Day One

I worked with my friend Chow (aka the Bangkok Glutton), my frequent co-conspirator in the kitchen. The basic recipe for the bao is simple: flour, water, yeast, a bit of baking powder and a bit of salt. Some versions have some milk added for softness – I didn’t try that this time. You let the dough rise a few times, punching it down between rises but trying to avoid over-working it, because bao are meant to be soft, not chewy.

IMG_4867The first day, we made bao the traditional way, rolling them out into an oblong shape and them folding them in half over a piece of wax paper. This allows them to be opened and stuffed more easily. They are then steamed for about 8-10 minutes and can either be served warm or kept covered and reheated if necessary.

As for the red decoration, I found that trick in one online recipe. You use red food coloring and the tip of a chopstick to decorate the buns just before steaming. Looks pretty professional! Our kitchen assistants became more creative and so we ended up with all sorts of designs on our bao.

IMG_4872For the first day’s bao, we used some braised pork belly, homemade radish pickles, some braised cabbage, and some Italian parsley. It turned out okay, but the bao were a bit flat, brittle at the fold, and the fillings were underwhelming in flavor. All in all, though, a good first attempt.

Day Two

The second day we let the dough rise more and also shaped it into balls, making it more like a hamburger bun. This worked better although I think we over-worked the dough a bit, as it was tough.

IMG_4928The pictures don’t do justice, but the fillings were a great deal better this time around. We tried a different recipe for the pork belly, which had much more flavor than the original recipe.

IMG_4933We also did a duck breast, which I paired with the seasonings I had used the day before for the pork belly. This, too, was very nice.

IMG_4939The star of the show was a more traditional Taiwanese version with chicken thigh meat braised in Chinese rice wine and soy sauce served with chopped peanuts. This was so tasty, I could have eaten a half-dozen and I will have to try it again soon.

IMG_4937As an added bonus, since I was also teaching two friends’ children to cook, we made a homemade chicken noodle soup with both the broth and the noodles from scratch. I think the noodles came out a bit too “spaetzle-like” but they were tasty and the broth was the first time I’ve made a chicken broth that really wowed me.

Stay tuned for more from the kitchen.

 

Burgers in Bangkok: Daniel Thaiger

Note that Soi 38 has become much less crowded due to city inspectors enforcing zoning laws. Daniel Thaiger food truck is now at Sukhumvit Soi 23. Follow them at https://www.facebook.com/DanielThaiger/

Bangkok is a street food city. It is no exaggeration to say that there are tens of thousands of street food vendors. And yet the opening last year of Daniel Thaiger, a street food vendor usually found on Sukhumvit Soi 38, created a niche in an otherwise crowded market by selling American style hamburgers.

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Soi 38 is listed in pretty much every tourist guide book as one of the go-to places for street food in Bangkok. Located in the upscale middle stretch of Sukhumvit Road and adjacent to a BTS Skytrain station (Thong Lo), it is extremely easy to access. As the sun lowers on the horizon, street food vendors start setting up and most of them continue to serve until well after midnight. Because of its popularity, it is also crowded with foreigners and most restaurants have menus available in many languages. The food remains top-notch, though, despite no longer being a secret known only to locals.

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About forty meters into the soi, just past all the street vendors selling the usual Thai foods (congee, fried noodles, soup noodles, satay, sticky rice and mangoes, etc.), you will find the small Daniel Thaiger truck, alternating sides depending on the day of the week. A crowd, many of them looking suspiciously like hipsters, fills the sidewalk around the truck and seating is always a challenge. Diners are not just foreigners, though. A surprising number of Thais join the queue.

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One half of the couple behind Daniel Thaiger – Honey, pictured above in black with glasses – is the front of the house. She greets, takes orders, makes sure the few tables and chairs are kept clean, and checks to make sure you are satisfied with your meal. Which you are likely to be.

2014-01-31 05The other half of the team, Mark, mans the gas-powered griddle and oversees the production of about 140 hamburgers a night. A native Angelino (meaning he’s from Los Angeles, for those of you unfamiliar with the term), Mark’s concept of “hamburger” is definitely and thankfully shaped by the In-n-Out burger chain. Their focus – and his, too – is on quality, fresh ingredients. Mark hand-forms the patties each day and makes sure to check with his diners, asking how the food is and seeking their suggestions and ideas.

Burger Double Bacon Cheese

The menu is very simple: plain burger (beef or pork), bacon and cheese burger, a pork-and-oat burger, grilled cheese, and tuna melt. When parked on Soi 38, they are unable to make fries due to not having access to electricity. But the truck also sells chips and bottled beverages. Above, is a two-patty beef burger with bacon and cheese. I always order medium-rare, which I think compliments the flavor of the high-quality imported beef. The fact that your burger is cooked to your desired level of doneness shows an attention to detail missing at most burger restaurants in town.

Burger MAc

With the truck open five days a week (closed Sunday and Monday), every few days Mark will throw a special on the menu. This evening it was a jalapeño mac-and-cheeseburger, which includes a nice little serving of spicy mac-and-cheese on top of the burger. This is an awesome combination. I’ve also tried and enjoyed the chili cheeseburger.

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Collaborating with a local producer of fine meats, they also offered a pastrami burger. Tasty, although the flavor of the pastrami gets lost in the beefiness of the burger. All in all, though, the hamburgers are top-notch. Not only the best in Bangkok, but perhaps the best I’ve had anywhere. They certainly satisfy my craving for In-n-Out.

The truck is usually open by about 5:30 and it is common for items to start running out by 8:00 and for Mark and Honey to shut down by 9:00. Follow them on Facebook for daily specials.

Food in LA: In-N-Out Burger

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As my last few days of work came to an end, it was time to head to LAX and pick up my sister, her husband, and my two nieces for our week of vacation together.  They arrived on an early evening flight, just as the sun was setting over the iconic Theme Building and the newer, although still modern, control tower.

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Our first lunch in LA was at the Southern California icon, In-N-Out Burger.  The chain, which dates from 1948, introduced the idea of a drive-through hamburger restaurant.  While this may seem like an incredibly pedestrian idea today (pun intended), back in the 40s, carhops served food to customers in their cars.  The idea of driving through the restaurant was a perfect fit for the budding car culture that helped define Los Angeles.

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While we can debate who has the best hamburgers, something that is a matter of personal taste as much as anything else, In-N-Out provides very high quality burgers and all the ingredients are fresh, never frozen.  The company makes their own hamburger patties in-house and potatoes are cut into fries throughout the day at each location.

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Nearly every In-N-Out has the same basic layout and cleanliness prevails.  This is the only restaurant at which I’ve ever seen employees cleaning the underside of tables.

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The kitchen is open, so you can look on as your burger is made.  It is organized chaos, a system that is impressive to watch.  From what I’ve heard, employees are treated quite well.  Minimum wage is $10 an hour and various benefits are offered, unusual for a fast food employer.  Service is always friendly and helpful.

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Here’s the food itself – a Double Double (two patties, two slices of cheese) with freshly-leafed lettuce, grilled onions, and a slice of tomato.  The fries are very different from fries at most restaurants.  This is because they have never been frozen and aren’t pre-treated with sugar sprays or anything else like that.  Just fresh potatoes, sliced by hand, then plunged into the fryer.

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We took the girls to the In-N-Out that is located just off the end of runway 24R at LAX, the perfect place to sit, sip a shake, eat a burger, and watch the jets come roaring in on final approach.  An excellent introduction to Los Angeles for first-time visitors!