Love ’em or hate ’em – food trends are what can make or break a restaurant. I’m not going to get into the nitty gritty of consumer behaviour and how it can affect the food chain (pun intended) but I am going to talk about the latest food trend to hit the scene in Bombay – the humble bao.
A bao is a Taiwanese street food-style steamed bun stuffed with meaty, tasty fillings (popularly, pork belly). Over the last year or so, baos have made appearances on different restaurant menus across Bombay – usually in the cameo of a pork belly bao (like I said, it’s popular).
When I heard that a dedicated bao eatery had opened in South Bombay, I was relieved – and surprised, since Bandra seems to be the go-to for new place for new restaurants these days. Better yet, the new eatery – The Bao Haus Co. was close to where I live, AND did home delivery. What more could a girl ask for?
The Bao Haus Co.
Tucked away in one of Colaba’s busy bylanes, The Bao Haus Co. wasn’t all that hard to find. I was invited to their central kitchen for a tasting, and to meet the brains behind the operation – Chef Siddharth Somaiya. Driven by his passion for baos and inspired by the flavours he cultivated from his time abroad studying at the Culinary Institute of America and working at a three-Michelin starred restaurant, Chef Siddharth started The Bao Haus Co. in October this year.
Lunch service had just ended, but of course – orders kept rolling in, and baos kept rolling out. Hectic as it was, Chef did take some time out to explain his ideas behind the food.
The Bao Haus Co.’s Prawn Crackers are made with real Prawns, cooked down into a paste, cut into neat little circles and dehydrated overnight before being fried and dusted with kaffir lime salt. Perfectly prawny with zingy seasoning and the most gorgeous crunch – these were probably the nicest prawn crackers I’ve ever tasted (which reminded me of the Parsi sariyas)!
I was nervous about eating the Hickory Smoked Chicken Wings without any cutlery, in the middle of Chef Siddharth’s office – mostly because I eat about as neatly as a baby dinosaur – but it wasn’t as messy as I thought it would be. Honestly, I’ve never been a fan of chicken wings in general and very rarely do I even enjoy tasting them – but these were so gorgeously crispy, sticky-sweet and well-smoked, I couldn’t resist!
The Buttermilk Fried Chicken Bao sounded like an odd combination – so I was skeptical at first. Until I bit into it. First of all, that steamed bread is pillowy and light, but with enough density to hold the filling and sauces in place without soggily disintegrating like regular bread does. The crunchy, vibrant slaw of red cabbage and sweet peppers with the honey-sriracha glaze over juicy and crunchy chicken strips was more than just a party in my mouth – it was a full on rager! This well-balanced bao is nothing short of beautiful, and I would eat it every day if I could.
Chef Siddharth explained that the Belgian Pork Belly Burger is his take on the Classic American Cheeseburger – with a few exceptions, obviously. The bread for the bun is similar to that of the bao, and thankfully holds its shape as well. The patty is made from slow-cooked minced pork belly – it’s generously flavoured with its own juices and topped with a house-made melt of tangy sriracha cheddar and caramelised onions. Sounds simple, and it is – but after the first bite, I couldn’t stop myself from taking more.
Out of the two Sodas on offer (also made in-house) I much preferred the Watermelon Hibiscus one over the Kaffir Lime and Ginger (think mojito, minus the alcohol).
What really struck my interest was the Coconut Shrimp Bao, with a kaffir lime garnish, tamarind glaze and sriracha. Sandwiched in a wholewheat bao (the second variety of bao on hand over the traditional flour one), it was palatable, but missing something. Personally, I feel like it needs a punch or two of more flavour to take it up a notch. Other than that, the prawns were lovely and plump and there wasn’t anything wrong with it.
For Dessert, the only thing on the menu is the Chocolate Bao, with a brûléed banana, house-made marshmallow and hazelnut praline crunch. It sounds so wrong, but tasted SO RIGHT. The cocoa flavour of the bao is just dark enough to counteract the melty, gooey marshmallow and caramelised banana – plus, that hazelnut candy adds enough edge to kick it up a notch. LOVED this little weirdo bao!
After I went home that evening – with a little foodbaby – my family also decided that they wanted in on this delicious food – so I ordered in.
I may have overdone it a bit, but we had a superb feast. In addition to what I had tried earlier, we also ordered the Sous-Vide Goat Bao with jalapenos and pickled pear, as well as the Bahn Mi with chicken pate, char siu pork, pickled watermelon rind and jalapenos. I think I need to try the Sous-Vide Goat Bao a second time to decide whether or not I like it – and though the filling for the Bahn Mi was a hit, the bread was a bit too hard.
Townies, rejoice! We finally have a delivery place to hit up for those cravings that we’d otherwise have to drive through never-ending traffic for! I’ve heard a lot of people complain that the food is “pricey”, but to be perfectly honest – I paid the bill for our home delivered food myself, and for that amount of food, it’s value for money.
Premium ingredients and a lot of care go into everything that comes out of their kitchen, plus all the sauces, breads, prawn crackers, tofu and even the sriracha cheese slices are made in-house (as it should be).
It’s also interesting to see the influence of American cuisine in what would otherwise be strictly Asian food – so don’t go confusing these contemporary baos with traditional preparations, they may be equally delicious, but they are not the same.
Would I order again? Definitely.
For more deliciousness, find me @blehlovesfood on Instagram!