Battle of the Bao: Wonderbao v Bao Now

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Melbourne is going barmy over baos with the opening of not one, but two restaurants entirely devoted to bao.  Previously I’ve only eaten these fluffy puffs of goodness as part of a meal at a Chinese restaurant but apparently the buns have reached such cult status that they can support two stand alone stores.  I blame David Chang and Momofuku.

Wonderbao’s tofu bao


Wonderbao

I have to admit I got totally lost trying to find Wonderbao which is located in the oh-so-Melbourne position of  the end of a tiny laneway surrounded by garbage bins.  Thank God for Sarah’s map.  It seems that the rest of Melbourne has not had the same problems as the queue was out the door by the time I got there.  The bao served up at Wonderbao are traditional, plucked to order from stacked piles of large bamboo steamers.

Roast pork belly bao at Wonderbao

The choi bao ($2) was like a little pillow of air but filled instead with shitake mushrooms, tofu and vegetables.  It needed a bit of spicy sauce to give it more kick but I thought it was a good vegetarian option.  Better still though was the open roast pork belly bao ($3.80).  The pork didn’t have crisp crackling but the meat was juicy and contrasted nicely with the crisp vegies and a slathering of sweet hoisin sauce.  I’m pretty convinced I could live on Wonderbao’s pork belly bao it was so good.

Essentials
Details: Wonderbao, shop 4/19-37 A’Beckett Street, City, 3000 (Ph 03 9654 7887)  Mon-Fri 11am-6pm, Sat 11am-4pm.
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve.
8/10
Wonderbao on Urbanspoon

The Wonderbao giant steamers in action

Bao Now
Right next to Silo by Joost in Hardware Lane, Bao Now immediately grabs your attention with its cheeky “hot buns” sign.  There’s actually more to Bao Now than just buns, it has diversified into san choi bao and rice bowls.  Unlike Wonder Bao, the bao fillings at bao now are rather unconventional and include inspiration from around the world from a bacon cheeseburger flavour to mexican carnitas.

Buffalo chicken bao at Bao Now

The buffalo chicken bao ($3) sounds pretty wrong but was actually very right with just the right amount of zing to keep things interesting.  But the bao was a fair bit smaller than Wonderbao’s version and tasted a little soggy after having been kept warm in a glass fronted display case rather than a steamer basket.  Thai curry san choi bao ($6.50) was served in a crisp lettuce leaf with vegies and chicken coated in a thick spicy curry sauce which sadly erred on the gloopy side.  

Thai Chicken San Choi Bao at Bao Now

Essentials
Details: Bao Now, 119 Hardware St, Melbourne CBD, 3000 (Ph 03 9670 6394)  
Damage: Such a bargain my mother would approve
6/10
Bao Now on Urbanspoon

 
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Now… with a little bit of bao bao boom my verdict is that Wonderbao is the home of superior baos.  The baos at Wonderbao are bigger and fluffier than Bao Now’s as they come straight from the steamer instead of languishing in a glass fronted counter.  But, if you are after kooky flavour combinations then Bao Now is the place for you.    

12 comments

  1. A battle I would love to be a part of on a daily basis! Yummy!

  2. Gosh I know what you mean about the location of wonderbao, I foolishly tried to find it sans iphone.. and left the city frustrated and baoless. Will have to reattempt!

  3. I agree – although you missed out on the braised pork belly open bao! That was my fav 🙂

  4. Really need to take a day off to get some bao in ma belly!

  5. Hooray! Good to see Melbourne having some interesting food trends that take inspiration from Asia, not America (here in London we are sinking under a morass of burgers, hot dogs and gourmet fried chicken). Having said that, I’m not so sure about some of the fusion combos at Bao Now.

    BTW, are there any sweet bao? I’d love to tuck into Chinese custard, lotus seed paste, red bean paste, black sesame paste etc…

  6. David Chang does have a lot to answer to. In a good way 🙂 This looks like terrific fun.

  7. Haha. We just reviewed these two places too in our “Bao Boom” article last week, though we had a dessert focus of course. Like your title too! http://momoandcoco.wordpress.com/2012/09/17/the-bao-boom-wonderbao-and-baonow/

    Our assessment of them accords with yours, both are good/bad in their own different ways. Both are delightful nonetheless. The iphone did not work with Wonderbao, one of us resorted to asking some of the uni students milling about that area.

  8. Dear Cara,

    That roast pork belly bao bears a striking resemblance to David Chang’s momofuku pork buns which we have also tried to replicate at home LOL. Except I made doubly sure to get the pork crackling nice and crispy and it was pretty awesome!!

    http://chopinandmysaucepan.com/momofuku-pork-buns

  9. Been meaning to go try out Wonderbao but haven’t yet had and chance and I hadn’t even heard of Bao Now yet so will need to investigate!

  10. Andi – Me too.

    Gagwood – I have to admit it was my second attempt!

    Catherine – You have just given me a very good excuse to go back.

    Iron Chef Shellie – If that’s what it takes…

    Mr Noodles – Like London Melbourne is obsessed with American street food at the moment as well, so I agree it’s nice to have something different.

    Tori – Yes I don’t mind blaming him I have to say.

    Momo – Love your post. Looks like I will have to go back and try the dessert boas.

    Chopin – How great that you replicated them at home. I have the recipe but have never been brave enough!

    Ames – Wonderbao gets my pick over Bao Now – don’t get lost on your way…

  11. Its my understanding the most of the bao at Wonderbao are HK in style – the more open style ones I’ve seen at Taiwanese places before.

    Fil

  12. David Chang is surely a genius to have inspired this craze.

    Have you had a chance to try our baos yet, Cara? Would love to hear your verdict!

    We jumped on the bandwagon a couple of months back… or should I say jumped on the ‘baowagon’ (sorry, couldn’t resist!)

    David’s 🙂

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