Gua bao (割包/刈包)
Almost everything I cook is inspired from food I have eaten around the world, especially street food. Having spent a considerable amount of time in various Asian countries I’ve had the delicious pleasure of tasting numerous styles of steamed buns with fillings consisting of vegetables and meats to who know knows what. (One of the joys of traveling through Asia is there is usually zero English spoken so one may never really know what they are eating.)
This being said I have not yet been to Taiwan so my exposure to Gua bao (割包/刈包) is limited to a restaurant in North East Portland that specialized in the fluffy little cloud stuffed with a spicy, savory, sweet and tender pork.
While browsing through my local Asian market yesterday I came across frozen Bao buns. So no, this recipe will not include the making of the buns. I picked up a few and started looking around the internet for that truly authentic recipe to recreate these tasty little pockets of goodness. I found nothing, and I found too much. Usually I will research the origin of the food, study it’s history and the region where it came from. I look at the local produce that grows in the area and the types of animal products that would be used in the dish. What I discovered upon researching Gua Bao is there is no set formula but rather many interpretations which makes sens as this is basically, a steamed bun.
So I have chosen to make up my own thing borrowing ideas from different styles of cooking. I am thinking a sweet and spicy braise of pork and an almost Bánh mì style of slaw. Lets begin.
I always start by prepping my ingredients. This dish will have two parts, a meat part and a vegetable part and since the meat will take a few hours to slowly braise I am beginning with just the marinade ingredients.
As always, I never measure anything, that is why I am not a good baker. It is also why I never really do the exact same dish twice which really upsets my wife. I placed all the marinade ingredients in a pot that I will use for the braise and added water.
The current debate I am having with myself is to sear or not to sear. I have always seared my meat before braising but recently there has been a new thought of skipping this step. The theory is that searing seals in the meat not allowing the braising flavors to permeate the meat as well. I’m not sure about this. Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below. For now I will stay with the sear.
I let the meat braise, covered for about three hours. I then uncovered it for another 2-3 hours to allow the liquid to reduce. This is what it looked like. As you can imagine the entire floor of our building smelled delicious.
It was time to make the slaw. Pretty basic. Cabbage, Carrot, cucumber, cilantro, rice wine vinegar, sugar and lime juice. Sprinkled some toasted black sesame seeds in there as well.
And that was it. I slathered a bit of Hoi Sin on the bun, added the meat and the slaw and it was absolutely amazing.