Friday, January 8, 2010

The Best Bao I Have Ever Eaten

I like to eat baos.

I tend to prefer the savoury kinds.

In Singapore, I like Chicken Bao, or sometimes also called 鸡肉大包. It is the typical kind of baos you find in Singapore, with a sweetish soft outer skin and chicken pieces plus a small bit of an egg inside.

I also like Char Siew Baos, but only the kind with super fluffy skin and small pieces of char siew in a sweet, sticky and thick sauce. These are usually found in good dim sum restaurants but when I was studying, NTU Canteen 2 has this store that sells this particular bao done just the way I like it.

The only sweet bao I like is the Custard Bao (奶黄包) and its cousin the "Golden Sand Bao" (金沙包). The Custard  Bao, as per its name, is a kind of bao with a creamy and smooth custard filling. The "Golden Sand Bao" is the same but the filling has some salted egg yolks added to it, so the filling is more liquid, deeper in colour and has just the slightest bit of taste and texture that really enhances the taste of custard. (Yum!) Unfortunately, my favourite custard bao can only be found in Hong Kong. The ones I've tried in Singapore are not that great..

The best bao I have eaten though, is found in Shanghai.

Shanghai has many different kinds of baos.

Forget the Meat Baos that look like cousins of our Pork and Chicken Baos in Singapore - they taste different and no matter how good they claim to be, the Singaporean cousins are far more superior.

Xiao Long Bao (小笼包) is very good in Shanghai. In general the standards for Xiao Long Bao is good in most restaurants in Shanghai.. but a particularly good one can be found at this place called Nan Xiang Xiao Long Bao (南翔小籠包). Just search this on the web and you'd easily get pictures of the long queues for these great snacks.

Personally, I think the Xiao Long Bao at Nan Xiang is good.. but I can get a pretty good proxy at Ding Tai Fung (鼎泰丰) so they are nothing to shout about.

Xiao Long Soup Bao (小笼汤包) is more interesting to me. This is a slightly bigger version of Xiao Long Bao, with soup inside and almost no meat. This is one classy bao because you usually get a straw to drink up all the soup... And you usually don't eat the skin or the meat inside. It's interesting to me because you don't really find it in many restaurants (not in Singapore anyway).

But the best baos I have EVER eaten... and I'm absolutely serious about it... is from this very humble little shop found in a very humble looking street in Shanghai.

This shop serves the juicest Pan-Fried Bao (生煎包) I have ever eaten.

A single serving gives you 4 humble looking Pan-Fried Baos with golden brown bottoms. The golden-brown parts are crispy and the rest of the skin is chewy with a generous sprinkling of fragrant sesame seeds.

This is how you would (and should) eat it.

You bite a little hole and carefully suck out the hot soup. It takes a while because there are lots of soup in the small little bao. Just when you think that there can't be anymore soup in that bao and proceed to take a bite at the meat, you'd find an explosion of meating flavour and juices in your mouth.

And since the bao would have cooled off quite a bit by then, in no less than a few seconds, you'd find yourself polishing it off, juicy meat, chewy-crispy skin and all.

And then you'd be repeating the entire process all over again on the second one.

And then the third and fourth... and if you have a good appetite, you'd proceed off to queue for another serving.

I had the chance to go Shanghai for 1 day in December and of course, I had to make time to visit this shop when I was there. They have a lot more branches in the city now but apparently, the original store does it best.

Xiao Long Soup Bao (left) and my favourite Pan-Fried Baos from Xiao Yang

Xiao Yang Pan-Fried Bao 小杨生煎包
Address: 静安区吴江路54-60号(近南京西路)

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