Hangzhou chain wel­comed in Bos­ton

China Daily (Canada) - - ACROSS AMERICAS - By HEZI JIANG in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts hez­i­jiang@chi­nadai­lyusa.com

The cook slowly lifted the lid off a huge bam­boo steamer. The del­i­cate aroma of fer­mented flour came bil­low­ing out, like a magic cloud.

As the air cleared, 16 white buns came into view. The only way to find out what was wrapped in­side was to take a bite and let the juicy pork fill your mouth or the lob­ster awaken your taste buds.

On a re­cent Tues­day af­ter­noon, peo­ple stood in line to get their lunch from Hangzhou-based Gan Qi Shi res­tau­rant chain’s first over­seas baozi shop in Har­vard Square in Cam­bridge. The US chain adopted the English name of Tom’s BaoBao.

“I used to grab burg­ers and Korean tofu soup when I needed a quick bite,” said Wang Na, a Chi­nese grad­u­ate stu­dent at Har­vard. “Now I get two baozi. They are health­ier, and taste like home.”

A fist-size baozi (pro­nounced baotz) costs about $3, with the ex­cep­tion of the $6 lob­ster bun, a vari­a­tion cre­ated for New Eng­lan­ders.

Ed Berger, a busi­ness con­sul­tant, stopped by the store af­ter read­ing about Tom’s BaoBao in the news­pa­per. He en­joyed both the juicy pork bun — the most or­dered item at the store — and the sweet potato bun. “I’ll def­i­nitely come back,” he said.

Tom Tong, founder of the chain that now has more than 200 restaurants in China, first eyed Bos­ton in 2014. “I was lured by its his­tory and cul­ture, es­pe­cially the food cul­ture,” said Tong.

He sees Bos­to­ni­ans as se­ri­ous eaters, and he wanted to do it right. It took him 20 months to open the shop.

The bam­boo steam­ers were made of the finest bam­boo from the Yangtze River Delta re­gion. Tons of spe­cialty flour were shipped from China be­cause Tong couldn’t find the right kind in the US.

“The fer­men­ta­tion has to be per­fect. No more, no less,” said Tong, who also sent six chefs back to China to learn how to make the per­fect baozi.

To com­bat the harsh win­ters in Bos­ton, Tong said, he in­vested heav­ily in steam­ing sys­tems so the buns would stay warm.

The Har­vard shop, which opened in July, has been a great suc­cess, and a sec­ond lo­ca­tion in down­town Prov­i­dence, Rhode Is­land, is sched­uled for a soft open­ing on Friday.

“Like Cam­bridge, Prov­i­dence is also a col­lege town with foodies,” Tong said.

He is plan­ning on ex­pand­ing the chain across the na­tion, “even to the West Coast,” he said, “and we may fran­chise.”


Chefs make baozi in the open kitchen at Tom’s BaoBao shop in Har­vard Square.

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