Gua Bao, also known as “pork belly buns” or simply “bao,” is a delicious and popular street food from Taiwan. It consists of a flat steamed bao bun folded halfway to hold a piece of braised pork belly, typically topped with fermented vegetables, ground peanuts, coriander, and more.
The authentic Taiwanese gua bao is a fluffy steamed bun filled with a rich, meaty, salty, savory slice of braised pork belly. However, the three accompaniments – pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and peanut powder – truly set it apart.
To be considered the real thing, gua bao must always have these essential ingredients. This delectable combination creates an explosion of flavors and textures in every bite, making gua bao a much-loved favorite among street food enthusiasts worldwide.
The Five Key Ingredients of Gua Bao
These soft, fluffy buns are the perfect vehicle for flavorful fillings. Made from wheat flour, water, sugar, and yeast, the dough is rolled out and folded before being steamed to create the iconic puffy texture. While store-bought buns can be used, homemade buns will take your gua bao to the next level.
Braised Pork Belly
The show’s braised pork belly star is cooked until tender and packed with flavor. The pork is cut into bun-sized slices and then red-braised, which means it’s stewed in soy sauce and rice wine flavored with five-spice powder and other aromatics.
This pork style is commonly found on Taiwanese tables. It is often served with sides that help cut the richness, such as lightly cooked vegetables and/or pickled vegetables like mustard greens.
Pickled Mustard Greens
This tart, tangy, and slightly spicy pickled vegetable contrasts the rich, savory pork belly. While traditional gua bao uses Chinese pickled mustard greens, you can experiment with quick pickled shallots for a refreshing taste and texture.
To balance the mustard greens’ fermented flavor and drab color, fresh, bright green cilantro is added. This herb provides a pop of color and brings a new, zesty flavor that complements the other ingredients perfectly.
Last, peanut powder adds a nutty, slightly sweet dimension to the gua bao. The ground peanuts provide a pleasant crunch, rounding out the earthy, rich flavor.
Delicious Variations & Fillings for Gua Bao
While the traditional gua bao is undoubtedly delicious, there’s plenty of room for creativity and experimentation with fillings. Here are some mouthwatering alternatives to try:
Crispy Chicken Filling with Sriracha Mayo Sauce
Swap out the pork belly for crispy fried chicken. Instead, drizzle it with a spicy sriracha mayo sauce for a modern twist on the classic gua bao.
Crispy Aromatic Duck Bao with Gressingham Duck, Cucumber, and Spring Onion
Inspired by Peking duck, this version features succulent shredded duck, crisp cucumber, and spring onions, all wrapped up in a soft bao bun.
Hoisin Duck Bao
Another duck variation, this time smothered in a rich hoisin sauce for a sweet and savory touch.
BBQ Glazed Tofu Bao with ToFoo
For a vegetarian-friendly option, try marinated and grilled tofu with a tangy BBQ glaze, providing a meaty texture that’s both satisfying and delicious.
Pan Fried Mushroom and Chive Bao Bun with Pak Choi, Spring Onion, and Water Chestnuts
This veggie-packed version features a mix of pan-fried mushrooms and chives alongside crunchy pak choi, spring onions, and water chestnuts for a delightful, healthy alternative.
Sweet Baos with Guava Paste or Red Bean Paste
For a dessert-inspired twist, fill your bao buns with sweet guava paste or red bean paste for a unique and indulgent treat.
Tips for Creating and Experimenting with Fillings for Gua Bao
When creating your own gua bao fillings, remember the importance of balancing flavors and textures. A good gua bao should have a mix of savory, sweet, tangy, and spicy elements and a combination of soft, tender, and crunchy textures. Be bold and play with contrasts and complementary flavors to create a memorable dish.
As you experiment with gua bao fillings, consider those enjoying your creation’s dietary restrictions and preferences. Whether you’re accommodating vegetarians, vegans, or those with gluten sensitivities, there are plenty of delicious alternatives that can be substituted to create a dish that’s both inclusive and tasty.
Where To Buy Amazing Bao & Bao Fillings
Pork buns, a popular Chinese delicacy, come in various forms and flavors. Several brands have gained popularity for their unique take on this traditional dish. Here are some of the most popular pork bun brands and what sets them apart:
Known for its Cha Siu BBQ Pork Buns and Pork and Vegetable Buns, Myriad Foods offers a balance of sweet and savory flavors. Their buns are characterized by a soft, fluffy texture and a generous filling of barbecue-flavored cha siu pork or a mix of pork and vegetables. Myriad Foods’ buns are perfect for those who enjoy a classic taste with a modern twist.
With a wide range of pork buns, including Steamed Pork Bun (Hang Zhou Style), Steam Buns with Roasted Pork, Leek and Pork Bun, Steam Roasted Pork Bun with Oyster Flavor Sauce, Pork and Cabbage Bun with Oyster Flavor Sauce, and Roasted Pork Bun (Baked), Prime Foods caters to diverse taste preferences. Their buns are known for their distinct flavors, such as the oyster sauce-infused roasted pork bun, which received a perfect score in a taste test.
Hailing from Osaka, Japan, 551 Horai is famous for its Butaman, a steamed bun filled with sweet and salty pork. The juicy meat’s residue is absorbed into the bread during cooking, resulting in a flavorful and satisfying experience. But beyond Butaman, 551 Horai also offers other delicious treats, making it a must-try brand for pork bun enthusiasts.
Originating in Canton, China, Dumpling Daughter’s Roasted Pork Buns have been a bestseller since 2014. Their hybrid creation combines Northern-Chinese style bread with a Cantonese-style filling, offering a sweet and savory treat with tender pork that appeals to fans of all ages.
In San Francisco’s Chinatown, AA Bakery is known for its delicious pork buns, not typically found at dim sum spots. Their buns are characterized by a soft, fluffy texture and a generous barbecue-flavored cha siu pork filling.
Another popular spot in San Francisco, Eastern Bakery, offers a variety of pork buns, including Baked Char Siu Bao and Crispy BBQ Pork Buns. Their buns are known for their unique flavors and textures, making them a favorite among locals and tourists.
What is Bao filled with?
Depending on the region, Bao is typically filled with various ingredients, such as tender pork, beef, chicken, and vegetables.
What is usually in Bao?
Bao usually consists of a white dough made from flour, yeast, sugar, baking powder, milk, and oil, which is then stuffed with a choice of filling and steamed to perfection.
What to serve in bao buns?
Some popular fillings in bao buns include crispy chicken, crispy aromatic duck, BBQ tofu, pan-fried mushroom and chive, and the classic braised pork belly.
What is inside a bao bun?
Inside a bao bun, you will find a mix of seasoned meat or plant-based alternatives, vegetables, and various sauces wrapped in a soft, slightly sweet dough.