Melbourne, VIC 3000
Food trends are hard to predict. A few years ago it was macarons and cupcakes, followed by a taco interlude, before a wave of gourmet hot dogs and burgers swept the city. Now the fads have turned oriental, the latest one being bao.
For those of you who aren’t familiar with bao, the concept is simple. Take a soft white bun, fill it with anything of your choosing, then steam it until it turns into a fluffy hand warmer. Wonderbao offered exactly 10 tempting variants of the traditional bao, 3 of which being a slightly fancier ‘gua bao’, originating from Taiwan and resembling the taco’s Asian cousin rather than a traditional bun.
|Char Siu Bao ($2)|
We started simple. The most basic and arguably most classic item on the menu, the Char Siu Bao ($2), was very good without being outstanding. The bread was textbook stuff, fluffy and light, and the filling was fragrant without being excessively sweet. There’s a good filling to bun ratio, but I do prefer the meat chunkier. That said though, when washed down with a cold glass of Soya Milk ($2.8), it took me right back to my childhood in China, where grandma would step out in the morning and be back 10 minutes later, a bag of steaming buns in one hand and fresh soya milk in the other.
|Da Pork Bao ($3.2)|
The Da Pork Bao ($3.2) is huge and heavy. Which is fair enough considering that da = big in Chinese. Ripping the bun in half, I realised that this bao meant business. A tightly packed fist of pork jostled for space with whole slices of lap cheong, juicy mushroom pieces, and wedges of egg. If there is a medal for the manliest bao, this one gets it.
|Roasted Pork Belly Gua Bao ($3.8)/Braised Pork Belly Gua Bao ($3.8)|
The gua bao, or ‘sliced bao’, is what I’m most keen on sampling. And because I couldn’t decide between the Braised Pork Belly Gua Bao ($3.8) and the Roasted Pork Belly Gua Bao ($3.8), I did the food blogger thing and got both. That turned out to be the right decision because they were both delicious! The braised pork belly had a thick, unctuous slice of pork sandwiched in the pillowy bread, flavoured with tangy mustard greens and crushed peanuts. The roasted pork belly on the other hand tasted similar to Peking duck pancakes, thanks to the lascivious usage of hoisin sauce and slow cooked meat, though as other bloggers have pointed out already, there is unfortunately no pork crackling.
|Nai Wong Bao ($1.7)|
We were both full by now but in the name of research, we went back to pick up a Nai Wong Bao ($1.7) to cap off our meal with a sweet note. This was once again, lovely. The custard smooth and creamy, lightly flavoured with coconut essence, encased by yet another flawlessly fluffy bun.
Wonderbao may have only been open a few short months, but they’re already becoming much too busy for the small 6-seater space. It’s a fabulous place for both a cheap lunch and a quick take-away snack, and it offers plenty of variety to keep things interesting. It is a wee bit hard to get to though, so here’s an extremely helpful map from Sarah Cooks. Or just wait a couple months; odds are by then all you’ll need to do is follow the hungry lunch time crowd.
Rating: 13.5/20 – wonderbra.