There’s a famous Swedish saying that goes something like “a beloved child has many names”. And when it comes to the Hirata Pork Bun, one of our favourite dishes right now, it’s truer than ever. We, as massive hamburger fans, like to call it the Asian burger. Other (arguably more sensible) people seem to think that it looks more like a taco. But regardless of whether you call it a Taiwanese Taco, an Asian burger, or simply a steamed bun, most people seem to agree that it tastes absolutely amazing.
Originally from Taiwan, the Gua Bao (its real name by the way) has been considered delicious street food for quite some while. It is sweet, sour and salty, irresistibly sloppy and richly meaty. The bun itself, perfectly sized and shaped like a purse to hold its fillings inside, fits snugly in the palm, making it an ideal on-the-go munch and a near-perfect street food.
I had my first Gua Bao ever at the excellent Ippudo in New York’s East Village. It was filled with the most amazing tender braised pork belly, topped with crushed peanuts, pickled mustard greens, coriander and some kind of amazing secret sauce or mayonnaise. It had that very special sweet taste, probably from crushing the peanuts with sugar, which I often find in Asian food. It was love at first bite, and whenever I go back to NYC I make sure to visit.
Normally a dish’s enthusiastically received migration increases its home country’s visibility as a food destination. But if you, like me, live in a city like Stockholm it can be hard enough to even find a Taiwanese restaurant, let alone one that serves good Gua Bao.
So, to make your lives a little easier, we’ve listed four of our own favourites below, two in New York, two in Europe. Enjoy!
Flesh and Buns, London. Shonhan, also famous for his ramen bar, Bone Daddies, which made the thick noodle fashionable here, opened his new restaurant, Flesh & Buns in the capital late last year. The Guardian described it as high-class Asian junk food, which sounds pretty damn awesome to us.
Momofuku, New York. Since David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in New York in 2004, his folded milk buns filled with roast pork belly, hoisin, cucumber and spring onion have been wowing NY fans of East Asian food.
Ippudo, New York. Our personal favourite. Apart from the excellent pork buns, the soup is always on point: the noodles are always cooked right, and the tonkotsu broth is unwaveringly flavor-packed. You can’t reserve tables, but unless there are many of you the wait is usually only around one hour. Have a beer in the (very small) bar while you wait.
Matbaren, Stockholm. The one Swedish place that we know serve these lovely little bites is Mathias Dahlgren’s Matbaren. It’s a great place, not just for steamed buns, and it has a star. Make sure you book a table early in advance.