If there’s one question I’m frequently asked, it would be, “Jay, why you so fly?” But a close second would be, “Jay, why you so fly, and where can I get pork buns?” Made famous by David Chang of Momofuku fame and Eddie Huang of Bao Haus, there hasn’t been many noteworthy places in the city to have “bao”. “Bao” means bread in Chinese, but we’ve come to know these (Gua Bao – the actual sandwich) as fluffy, steamed taco-like bread made into sandwiches using a mix of savoury meat fillings with complimenting toppings. Chinese taco? A CHACO?? You damn right. I recently checked out this new spot on St-Denis called “Bao Boys” and wouldn’t you know it, they serve baos.
We placed our orders in hanger and I asked the waiter (which turns our to be one of the owners) if there is anything else he thinks I should try. He highly suggested and sold me on the chicken wings – I love chicken wings. A basket of four full chicken wings served drenched in a sweet and sour, sticky syrupy sauce. These were large, substantial capon wings and not your shitty dive bar mutant thumb-sized variety. Light dusting of batter, the wings were crispy on the outside and moist and juicy on the inside. Major points for serving them with the wing-tips on – so under appreciated, that’s the best part.
We managed to try all of the five baos on the menu. The baos are served as two combos, a plate of two (which has to be of the same bao) or a plate of three (which can be mixed of the five available.) The “Bao Original” – pork belly, cucumber, mayonnaise and hoisin sauce, topped with pickled carrots and daikon and crushed peanuts. The pork belly was unctuous and tender and the garnish added a refreshing element to each bite. The “Bao General Tao” is everything you expect it to be – a piece of general tao chicken nestled in a fluffy wheat-flour bun. Doused in general tao sauce and topped with lettuce and peppers, the crushed pineapples were a nice tangy surprise.
The Korean style beef bao was topped with kimchi, cucumber, fried onions and covered in a homemade spicy sauce. The sliced beef was a bit salty and dry – killing it with sauce remedied that. The kimchi was what rationalized it as being “Korean” as the beef was too sparse in portion to taste any sort of seasoning on it other than soy. With kim chi in the same bite, it made for a pleasant mouthful which was accented by the sweet heat of the homemade faux-chujang.
We also tried the two fish baos. The “Bao-o-fish” – fried filet of sole, homemade tamarind sauce, garnished with lettuce and cucumber, and the “Bao au Saumon” – soy marinated salmon topped with green onions and cucumber. The Bao-o-fish was alright, I was expecting something more inspired having taken a jab at the Mc-o-name. The sweet and tangy tamarind sauce is nice over the fried piece of fish and the fluffy bun did a great job at soaking a lot of it up.
I particularly enjoyed the salmon bao. Grilled salmon with a sticky and sweet glaze had bits of char and texture that gave each bite a smokey edge.
We enjoyed Baoboys for their delicious buns. Their menu is substantial, however is all over the place with a heavy Vietnamese over tone to it. Seaweed salad, rice platters, pho… Their claim to fame are the buns and that’s what they should focus on to drive traffic to their store. Loading a menu for the sake of offering more to accommodate customers water down your product and muddles the boas that are fighting for attention. Sure it’d be nice to have options in case someone doesn’t want baos, but you’re called “Bao Boys”. Not “Bao Boys-oh-yeah-we-also-serve-other-stuff-too-if-you-want.” A more focused and concise menu would probably work well. You can replace any meat in the baos with tofu at no extra cost.
Their buns are fluffy and dense and would scare the celiac out of you. They’re plush and supple which is amazing, however, not amazing when you try to fold something so thick in half to sandwich its contents to shove into your mouth. As delicious as they were, we did however experience some structural integrity issues with the baos.
ps, if you were keeping count, I used the word “Bao” (not including this one) a total of 23 times. Guinness, hit me up.
If you haven’t checked out my recipe for my version of braised pork belly bao, do so here.