Header image courtesy of The Night Market (via Facebook)
One of the top short holiday destinations of choice for Hongkongers has always been Taipei, and it’s easy to see why. After all, where else would you get to meander through sprawling night markets, nibbling at everything that catches your fancy for dirt-cheap prices? One of the best Taiwanese street foods is the gua bao (刈包)—white, fluffy flat buns wrapped around chunks of braised meat so tender they usually melt in the mouth. Because it is said that these buns resemble the mouth of a tiger gripping a piece of fatty pork, it is also sometimes referred to as the “tiger bite pig” bao (虎咬豬).
However, Taiwan is not the only place that specialises in baos, and variations can be found across China as well—not to mention modern iterations. Here are the best places to find baos of all variations and persuasions in Hong Kong.
No doubt you will have already heard of this no-frills eatery, which serves up traditional Taiwanese dishes with the interiors to match, done up like the old streets of Taipei. It may not be anything particularly fancy, but rest assured that the restaurant is already a well-established chain in its hometown. Their traditional Taiwanese gua bao ($32) is moreish and makes for the perfect mid-day snack when you’re feeling peckish, or a great starter to your meal.
With a restaurant name like that, there’s little surprise that the darling of the Hong Kong culinary scene has also created her own modern version of this Taiwanese classic. Little Bao’s offerings are not very traditional, but we’ll pretty much forgive anything chef May Chow cooks up. You might as well go for the funkier bao renditions here instead of the standard pork belly bao ($88)—we are big fans of the fried chicken bao ($98) with its Chiangkiang black vinegar glaze, and the Sloppy Chan bao ($78) stuffed with braised shiitake tempeh and truffle mayo.
Little Bao, Shop H1, G/F, Fashion Walk, 9 Kingston Street, Causeway Bay | (+852) 2555 0600
Cheng Banzhang is owned by a Taiwanese emigrant so you know the food here is going to be legit. These palm-sized baos make us think of strolling through the snack-filled night markets of Taipei. Their “tiger bite pig” bao ($34) is the real deal and comes with a hefty chunk of pork belly, accompanied with a sprinkling of crushed peanuts and preserved vegetables, which gives the bao an elevated texture profile and combats any heavy fattiness in the taste.
Cheng Banzhang Taiwan Delicacy, 1/F, Elite Industrial Centre, 883 Cheung Sha Wan Road, Lai Chi Kok | (+852) 2576 1199
Inspired by Taipei’s street food stalls, this contemporary Taiwanese eatery comes with all of the frenetic flavours and none of the grottiness. The Night Market is particularly worth commending for its use of farm-fresh ingredients and produces, with an insistence on no added MSG. Their pork sliders ($65) consist of slow-braised pork belly meat and Taiwanese pickles in a soft bun, tying together melt-in-the-mouth fat, savoury fragrance, and crunch.
We love a good ol’ traditional meal and, as the name implies, Hong Kong Old Restaurant hits the spot. Jinhua ham (金華火腿; golden honey-glazed ham) is a fantastically moreish small bite when wrapped in a bao. If you’re a fan of the sweet and savoury mix of bacon and maple syrup, then you’ll like love honey ham wrapped in bread ($116), too. This restaurant gives a bit of a twist to this dish with the addition of crispy beancurd, which lends it a crunchy texture.
Chang’An Taste does a Shaanxi spin on the classic Taiwanese gua bao, known as the roujiamo (肉夹馍; “meat sandwiched in bread”). Instead of a soft, fluffy bun, savoury fillings stuffed into a “thousand-layer” pastry, similar in texture to a wife biscuit, and we simply can’t get enough of these flaky parcels of goodness, which Chang’An Taste calls “crispy Chinese burgers.” For a taste of the stars of the show, opt for the spicy cumin beef moo ($32) and the crispy stewed pork moo ($32), while vegetarians should go for the crispy stewed egg & tofu moo ($28). Word of warning: Some business directories list Chang’An Taste as Moo—and, indeed, even one of their shopfront proclaims it—so when you’re looking for it, be sure to keep your eyes peeled or you’ll miss it.
This taproom by local brewery Moonzen has been charmingly designed with traditional teahouses and temples as inspiration. While their 12 beers on tap are undoubtedly the main focus here, Moonkok also serves up a selection of “cantobites” such as baos and buns. We particularly like the sound of the Journey to the West-inspired Ginger Monk Pig ($78)—a pork bao with ginger sauce—and the Black Pepper Bull Demon King ($88), a beef bao with black pepper. Keep up the snacking and guzzling and you’ll soon be soaring among the clouds like the Monkey King himself.
Moonkok by Moonzen, G/F, 88 Shantung Street, Mong Kok | (+852) 2911 4662