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.


Food in BKK: Din Tai Fung

After a year’s delay caused by the May 2010 political protests and subsequent fires, Taiwanese dumpling chain Din Tai Fung recently opened its first branch in Thailand at the Central World Plaza mall at the Ratchaprasong intersection.  Last week, Tawn and I made a trip there to see how well it upholds the chain’s reputation.  The results?  Overall, positive, but a little bland.


I almost didn’t write this entry because, well, how many times do I need to post pictures of food from Din Tai Fung?  I’ve been twice in Taipei and then again in Hong Kong and Singapore.  The pictures never look that different.  But I waited more than a year for this branch to open and I thought it would be a shame not to give it due consideration.


One feature of Din Tai Fung locations is that the kitchen, or at least the dumpling making portion, is very visible.  The company takes pride in how they operate and their cleanliness is a sign of quality.  Plus, the army of cooks making thousands of dumplings is impressive to watch.  Here are some photos I took, which I think looked a little more interesting in black and white.




The dining area faces large windows overlooking the Big C Supercenter across the street, letting in lots of natural light.  Another seating area is open to the rest of the mall, which leaves you feeling a bit exposed.


The logos on the spoon and napkin have the Chinese, English, Japanese, and Thai versions of the restaurant’s name.  The lady working the front counter, taking names, and coordinating orders was from the Singapore branch, leaving me curious about how they manage operations in different countries.  Is this a franchise location or is it owned directly by the original company in Taiwan?


We started with a special “Oriental Salad in Vinegar Dressing,” which is a combination of seaweed, sprouts, mung bean noodles, and thinly sliced vegetables.  While a tasty combination, it was underseasoned and benefitted greatly from a hearty splash of soy sauce.


Sliced ginger in a mixture of soy sauce and vinegar, the ideal condiment into which you should dip your bao, or dumplings.


The original Xiao Long Bao, steamed pork dumplings.  Here in Bangkok, as well as in the Hong Kong location, I felt that the filling was under-seasoned.  My memory from Taipei is that the dumplings were full of flavor, but perhaps I need to go back and test that memory.


Another variation on the dumplings, this one with vegetables and pork.  The filling was more flavorful than with the original Xiao Long Bao.


Perhaps my favorite dish, the wontons with black vinegar and chilli oil.  Stuffed with shrimp, these lightly sweet dumplings are served in a sauce that is not as frighteningly spicy as you might imagine. 


A good concluding dish was the fried rice topped with pork chop.  The lack of flavor in the bao was made up for by the pork chop, which was liberally dusted in salt and pepper.


If you are thinking of ordering dessert at the Bangkok branch, be advised that nothing is yet available.  I didn’t ask why but perhaps one day they will fix whatever problem they are having.

All told, the quality continues to be high and the Din Tai Fung company can be confident that their good name will be upheld here.  I’m left with the lingering question of whether the blandness in their dumplings is something that I just didn’t notice at the original locations in Taipei and the Singapore location, too, or are the dumplings actually less flavorful here and in Hong Kong?  Further tests will have to be conducted!

Meanwhile, I am glad our wait for Din Tai Fung is over.