"Gua bao is the Asian equivalent of a taco."
July 24, 2018 3:23 PM   Subscribe

An illustrated compendium to Chinese baos with THE ULTIMATE BAO GRAPH - When it comes to Chinese food, few dishes are as beloved and portable as the bao. The etymology of the Chinese character bao 【包】 is “to wrap up,” which is a rather apt description for it. In the West, the term bao is often used interchangeably with dumpling. That’s not entirely accurate—not all baos are dumplings, and not all dumplings are baos. [By Clarissa Wei, Sierra Chao, and Ashley Kung; Goldthread]

Also, Twitter attempts to answer the question: Is xiaolongbao a bao or a dumpling?
posted by FJT (40 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite
Now I need a DnD alignment chart version of this.

Chaotic Evil: Danta is a bao
posted by tedious at 3:35 PM on July 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

Typically, baos are circular and have a pleated top, while dumplings are more of a ovalish shape with a wider pleat. Also not sure why we even have to argue about what XLBs really are on twitter when basically the majority of chinese (americans) will say it's a bao... is this to placate white people or what?

And while gua baos may resemble tacos, I always thought the Peking duck pancakes were more of a taco since you have the protein (duck), sauce, and light vegetable (onion).
posted by xtine at 3:38 PM on July 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

Don't try to buy a US 'bao' in mainland China - you'll get confused looks (you're asking for bread) what you want to ask for is a 'bao-zi' (essentially baby bao)
posted by mbo at 3:42 PM on July 24, 2018 [5 favorites]

That is not an “ultimate bao graph,” as it did not put bao in my belly. Get on this, graphic designers!
posted by GenjiandProust at 3:46 PM on July 24, 2018 [8 favorites]

Is xiaolongbao a bao or a dumpling?

Interesting. My personal worldview is that xiaolongbao is indeed a bao and not a gao due to the nature of the "wrapping." XLB tends to be a little bit thicker than dumpling (gao) wrapper.
posted by porpoise at 3:58 PM on July 24, 2018

"use a straw to suck the broth out before going to town"

I don't know if I'm hungry or nauseous; I may be both.
posted by howfar at 4:06 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Good to see Shanghai-style steam-fried xiaolongbao on there (the best one? Time will tell that the answer is yes)
posted by DoctorFedora at 4:50 PM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

question: Is xiaolongbao a bao or a dumpling?

Surely the question is, is it a sandwich?
posted by Joe in Australia at 5:05 PM on July 24, 2018 [12 favorites]

There's also the idea that tacos originated with the Ottoman Empire

(self-link note: I sometimes am published in PRI, but did not write this article and am not employed by the org)
posted by JamesBay at 5:09 PM on July 24, 2018

I am a baozi purist. If it isn't fluffy and leavened, it's a dumpling and that's the rule! As a vegetarian, my baozi experience is limited (though I lived in China long before anyone outside of major U.S. Chinatowns had ever heard of bao-anything, so I'm an early adopter) but man I love a veggie baozi if it's done well. A lot of places, especially stateside, don't season the veggies nearly enough. I want some flavor, dammit! But there's a grocery store near me that sells fresh baozi on the weekends and they meet my standards. 3 for $5. An excellent lunch.

I'm intrigued by the xiaolongbao phenomenon. If anyone wants to take a stab at a vegetarian version of those, hook a sister up.

Also, if we're on the topic of Chinese street food that could be a taco, why is jianbing so damn elusive in this country?
posted by soren_lorensen at 5:13 PM on July 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

I had never heard of the lamb-and-pumpkin bao, and now I need it to get in my belly yesterday. OMG. What a concept!
posted by sciatrix at 5:43 PM on July 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

question: Is xiaolongbao a bao or a dumpling?

Surely the question is, is it a sandwich?

Topologically, no.
posted by zippy at 5:49 PM on July 24, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is an excellent example of the principle of Show, don't tell. Show me the bao. I want to eat *all* the bao.
posted by theora55 at 5:50 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Gua baos ('Chinese burgers', as they're sometimes advertised) have for some reason become trendy foodstuffs around here, and while my family was initially interested, they always end up being $7AUD (each GB!) of pretty average fare (double that in trendy places, geeze). A lot of the excitement when buying things in Taiwan is the 'cheap' part of the equation ('good' being the other half), so I don't find it worth it to keep trying new GB places here like my folks still do. I'll just wait til the next trip back. For $7 per day you can completely stuff yourself in Taiwan (though you won't have to since your schedule will be full with obligatory family+friends catch up meals...), let alone buy a crappy bao.

Sausage Bao 腊肠包
An old-school favorite that harkens memories of childhood for Cantonese folks

Same (though we're Taiwanese). We didn't have a Chinatown where I grew up (in Aus) so when I was little Mum and I used to take the train to the big city an hour away to go to the dentist there (a lotta older generation Chinese people who aren't confident with their English prefer to go to health practitioners that speak Chinese, even if it'll be A Trip), and afterwards we'd buy loads of different bread at the bakery before taking the train home again. It's a ghost town there now- 95% of the shops and supermarkets are closed down, only a smattering remain. The fountain where the koi fishpond is dried up. Ironically my childhood town has a much more bustling Chinatown than the city one now, with a monthly night market that's mostly catered towards white people. There's a big statue of confucius (I think), red lanterns strung up, little flags that say 'culturally diverse!' and 'experience asia!'
posted by womb of things to be and tomb of things that were at 6:31 PM on July 24, 2018 [4 favorites]

The ULTIMATE GUIDE's thin/dry is a deliberate insult to gyoza, and by extension, jiaozi and mandu. They may not have intended the insult to encompass more than the Japanese "pot-stickers", but here we are.

(TFW you look up "Insult" in the recently googled "Urban Thesaurus" and it's all terms you recognize because you're old. So you use "insult" instead of "dis" "stunt" "throw shade" and god I'm old. Yeet.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 6:41 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]


--My family, except for some of the assholes in it.
--Skateboarding dogs

That's a complete list.
posted by Harvey Jerkwater at 7:22 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Gua bao are fantastic. I live in Taiwan so I can defs go grab one after work today...
posted by storytam at 7:50 PM on July 24, 2018

Is xiaolongbao a bao or a dumpling?
It's both.

By the way, hamburgers are also bao (漢堡).
posted by airmail at 8:36 PM on July 24, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love bao but there's something about them - maybe the steam, maybe the hot filling, maybe some ingredient - that sets my sensitive teeth off like absolutely nothing else I've ever eaten.

Momos, on the other hand, for whatever reason I can and will devour with no problem
posted by thecjm at 8:49 PM on July 24, 2018

Is xiaolongbao a bao or a dumpling?

Overthinking a plate of bao.
posted by AFABulous at 8:56 PM on July 24, 2018 [7 favorites]

if I can even get sausage bao nowadays in Oakland Chinatown, they don't use lop cheung, but hot dogs

posted by juv3nal at 9:58 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

Tacos al pastor are from the middle east. Not tacos.
posted by k8t at 10:10 PM on July 24, 2018 [1 favorite]

char siu pau (said and written the old fashioned overseas chinese way) is what I grew up on. used to cost 10 cents when I was in school.
posted by infini at 11:59 PM on July 24, 2018

Speaking as someone with parents from Beijing: I have found that Peking duck is pretty BS if they serve it with bao, it means that the restaurant doesn't have the know-how to make the thin pancakes that go along with it, that's a really specific thickness and texture. I have not had any in the States whose pancakes I've approved of, but I would still choose to eat them over bao. I just don't eat it with the bao, it is all wrong for the duck, too fluffy, too distracting, and takes away from all the textural experience from the duck meat and skin, if the skin is even prepared properly. The skin needs to be lightly puffed, like a honeycomb, with all the fat melted off so it leaves a lightly crunchy masterpiece.
posted by yueliang at 12:35 AM on July 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also I blame Eddie Huang for confusing everyone with the whole 'bao' word. People want meat buns? order bao zi. You want xiaolongbao? It's soup dumplings that you bite the top off of, drink the soup from the interior from, and then eat it whole with a spoon. You want fancy trendy fold-over sliders with pork belly? that's Bao in the trendy way.
posted by yueliang at 12:39 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

(Not to say I disapprove of Eddie Huang - I do love the whole Bao restaurant as a concept. 'blame' is used adoringly here.)
posted by yueliang at 1:09 AM on July 25, 2018

Also my mother teases me mercilessly because sometimes I fuck up the pronouncing of baozi and baozi. If you say it wrong, you are asking for cheetahs/panthers/jaguars for lunch.
posted by yueliang at 1:18 AM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

Objectively the best bao experience:

Sitting on the deck of your mate's restored 1960s yacht in the moorings of the Changi Yacht Club in Sinagpore, eating chunks of giant Singaporean pao and drinking warm Heineken as the tropical sun goes down, boiling off the evening clouds.

None better.
posted by prismatic7 at 3:21 AM on July 25, 2018 [3 favorites]

The giant one with the egg in it...
posted by infini at 3:22 AM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

The giant one, as you say, with the egg in it.
posted by prismatic7 at 3:26 AM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

Okay, but Amy Yip Bao (last link is most impressive) is clearly a major omission.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 7:18 AM on July 25, 2018

One major omission is the Uighurs' samsa (usually called a kao bao or kao bao zi in other regions of China). It's a baked in something like a tandoor (top picture here) and usually filled with meat and onions. It's basically a pasty and is savory and delicious.

When I lived in Nanjing, there was one restaurant that had them for sale every Wednesday. They weren't as good as the one's I'd had in Kashgar, but still better than a lot of the food in Jiangsu, the cuisine of which is most notable for having "subtle flavors" and also something called duck blood soup. Anyway, I'd buy 20 or so of these meat pies and fill up the freezer.

Also, having lived in Jiangsu, I saw my fair share of the giant soup baos. Never could stomach ordering one. When the server brings them out, the entire thing would slosh around in a really unsettling way. The straw sticking out of the center hole somehow made it even worse.

Regarding any baozi with liquid in them, be really careful when you bite into them. The liquid inside can be scorching hot and I've burnt my chin more times than I'd like to admit...
posted by msbrauer at 7:59 AM on July 25, 2018 [2 favorites]

This is the first time I've thought about the fact that I grew up with the pronunciation Siopao instead of cha siu bao. I think in my head I figured the common way to romanize the character must have changed, but apparently it's what they are called in the Philippines. Makes sense as I probably learned the name from my mom first, and then kept calling them that even after we were in Singapore.

I would murder somebody for an egg tart right now.
posted by PussKillian at 9:29 AM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

Also, if we're on the topic of Chinese street food that could be a taco, why is jianbing so damn elusive in this country?

There's a couple options here in NYC... Mr Bing is the more americanized version, and then there's a jianbing truck that's more traditional. They didn't have any english on the menu when I last went.
posted by Grither at 10:47 AM on July 25, 2018

One major omission is the Uighurs' samsa (usually called a kao bao or kao bao zi in other regions of China)

One of these days, I need to pull together an FPP on the samosa, samsa, samoosa, sambusa, that occurs in its meat and onion enwrapped fried triangular glory from Kenya, Somalia, South Africa, all the way through India to China, with detours to London, I'm sure.

The word "samosa" can be traced to the sanbosag (Persian: سنبوساگ‬‎).[3] The pastry name in other countries can also derive from this root, such as the crescent-shaped sanbusak or sanbusaj in the Arab world, sambosa in Afghanistan, somosa (Bengali: সমোসা) in Bengal, samosa (Urdu: سموسہ‬) in Pakistan, samosa (Hindi:समोसा) in India, (Sindhi: سمبوسو Samboso/sambosa‎), samboosa in Tajikistan, samsa by Turkic-speaking nations, sambusa in the Horn of Africa, and chamuça in Goa, Mozambique and Portugal. Wiki
posted by infini at 12:39 PM on July 25, 2018 [13 favorites]

A plug for Shengjian Bao - 生煎包. There's a pretty good Shengjian Bao chain in Shanghai called "Little Yang Shengjian' 小杨生煎. A key to enjoy Shengjian Bao is to bathe them in rice vinegar to cut the grease.

Also this seems like a good place to share one of my favorite Chinese proverbs: If you hit a dog with a pork bao, it will never come back.
posted by of strange foe at 1:13 PM on July 25, 2018 [5 favorites]

Speaking of which, there's a place in Tianjin named "even dogs don't want it" https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Goubuli
posted by DoctorFedora at 9:13 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

In my neck of the woods (Singapore, hi! infini and prismatic7!), asking for a Gua Bao will get you blank looks. They're known as Kou Rou Bao (扣肉包) or Kong Bak Pao in Hokkien here. The aforementioned Singaporean Bao is just known as the Big Bao (大包) here, as opposed to the more petite Little Bao (小包) which is the default pork bao (or minced chicken for the halal ones).

I miss the Taiwan style shengjianbao. I've tried a few here in Singapore but there's just something not quite right with them, especially in terms of the bready texture of the outer layer.
posted by Alnedra at 10:40 PM on July 25, 2018 [1 favorite]

and I think there's a shop selling the samsa in Tampines
posted by infini at 1:02 AM on July 26, 2018 [1 favorite]

« Older neither Northern nor Southern, but an amalgam of...   |   Georgia Has a Coast? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments