Bao buns trends haven't hit the States as hard as they have in London. I'm amazed at how many places offer bao buns and all of the different modern twists to them. Originally an authentic Chinese dish, it's a fluffy steamed pancake like dough that you use to wrap meat such as hoisin duck. I would go as far as to say a Chinese version of a taco.
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Bao buns feel like a traditional comfort food, which I only saw in Chinatown in New York. Yet in London, it's all over the place as a trendy quick meal and has an amazing modern fusion twist to it. I can truly say that no two bao buns are alike in London.
If you want a popular sit-down Japanese restaurant atmosphere, meaning it's not meant for large groups but more of a quick meal around the kitchen bar with groups of 1-4 people, you may like Bao Soho (or one of their other locations in the Borough Market, Fitzrovia, Netil Market). The menu includes five different bao buns to choose from, including one that is vegetarian. I went into detail about my experience there in my Best Eats in Soho London post. These are all small bite sized bao buns, so you can order all different styles before you get full, which is so ideal.
The flavours and textures of each bao bun is so different. It made the experience very enjoyable since your taste buds were constantly entertained. Besides the bao buns, the menu also has a variety of other small plates, much like tapas. I absolutely love tapas because you can try a large variety of flavours and dishes without getting full on just one entree.
Another great spot I found is called Yum Bun in Shoreditch's Dinerama or the Spitalfields Market. I posted about this place in a previous blog as well. If you go to Dinerama's Yum Bun, you'll be able to sit down and also grab food and drinks from other neighboring vendors.
With plenty seats and plenty of room for you to come with a big group of friends and family, it's a perfect place to hangout for dinner or a quick bite. Yum Bun has four different bao buns to choose from. If you order two, it's under £10, which is a great deal and each one is about half the size of your palm! It's quite massive compared to a traditional bite-size bao bun. Ordering two bao buns was more than enough for me to eat. If you cut them each in half, you can share with your group of friends so everyone gets to experience this deliciousness.
Dinerama is basically a food court, so it is a place where you want to come with a group of colleagues or friend and pick at different foods to share. You can see my experience at Dinerama in my post called Food Courts of London.
On The Bab
A trendy cafe-style eatery that serves bao buns as one of their many options of Korean cuisine menu is On The Bab in Covent Garden (or their other location in Shoreditch). "Bab" translates to "rice" or "food" in Korean. On The Bab focuses on serving Korean street food.
I loved this place because many of the trendy fusion bao buns in other shops often use fried chicken or pork belly. On The Bab actually used traditional bulgogi (marinated and grilled beef rib meat) as one of their six bao bun options. They also had fried chicken. Who doesn't want fried chicken in their bao bun? The crunchy, crispy, heavy chicken balanced by a light and fluffy bun is a perfect combination. Also, given the choice, who doesn't want fried chicken period?
These were probably the largest bao buns I have ever seen! They were each easily larger than the size of my fist. Which meant that an order of two bao buns at the price of £9 was a full meal for me. Besides the fluffy marshmallow-like buns, the bulgogi was spot-on in flavor and tenderness. But the highlight of this dish has to be the toppings.
These bao buns were topped with pickled kimchi that had an extra refreshing vinegar seasoning along with a french-dressing-style fresh coleslaw, which balanced out the fattiness of the meat. It truly is a full and balance meal - protein, carbohydrates, and vegetables.
It's perfect for sharing with its massive size by cutting right down the middle with the plastic cutlery available at each table. I recommend going with a friend so you can order more of a variety and taste a little bit of every goodness. Since I went on my own, I didn't get to try all six types, but I'll make it a point to go back again until I do.
Whether you're in need of a quick lunch break during work hours or want some chill vibes and good food while exploring London, going for a bao bun is an excellent experience and memorable. Unfortunately, I have yet to find a modern bao bun that includes the traditional duck breast. But that may be because that would make it a bit too traditional. In any case, let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below about your own experience. I have a good feeling you'll fall in love with this trendy dish.
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