A Bao Eatery at Har­vard Square


Special Focus - - Contents - Jiang Guangyu 蒋光宇

Tong Qi­hua, a na­tive of Wen­ling, Zhe­jiang prov­ince, has opened in over 10 years more than 160 bao ( Chi­nese style steamed stuffed buns) stores in Hangzhou with an­nual sales of nearly 200 mil­lion yuan. His bao won the hon­orary ti­tle of “The Most Pop­u­lar Fresh Bao in Hangzhou,” which was be­stowed upon his hum­ble es­tab­lish­ment by likes of the Hangzhou Ca­ter­ing and Cooking As­so­ci­a­tion.

Af­ter two years’ prepa­ra­tion, Tong Qi­hua opened his first bao eatery in the United States on July 7, 2016—Tom’s BaoBao.

The eatery sits in a prime lo­ca­tion at Har­vard Square in Cam­bridge, Mas­sachusetts, lo­cated smack dab in mid­dle of the main cam­pus ser­vices area of Har­vard where there is a large num­ber of cafés, restau­rants and book­stores. It is teem­ing with life and the rent is, as you would ex­pect, an arm and a leg.

The 17 chefs in the store are all Amer­i­cans se­lected from a long

list of more than 600 can­di­dates, all trained and scru­ti­nized for three months be­fore they took up their post. Chef’s train­ing costs up to 100 thou­sand dol­lars. Their quota is to roll out 22 dough wrap­pers per minute; which pro­duces a batch of 22 bao ev­ery 60 sec­onds. Each bao weighs 100 grams in to­tal with the dough wrap­pers weigh­ing 60 grams and the stuff­ing 40 grams, the margin of er­ror is no more than 2 grams. The chefs are paid at least 15% more than their coun­ter­parts at the neigh­bor­ing ham­burger and pizza restau­rants, and some even earn up to 100,000 dol­lars a year. “To re­spect this in­dus­try, we should re­spect our em­ploy­ees and let them re­spect our cus­tomers,” re­marked Tong Qi­hua.

There are clas­sic va­ri­eties such as pork bao, curry beef bao, diced chicken bao with sauce, mush­room and veg­etable bao, along with more ex­otic styles like fresh or­ange sweet potato bao, and even lob­ster bao which caters to lo­cal tastes. The cheap­est fresh or­ange sweet potato bao costs 3 dol­lars be­fore tax. Lob­ster bao is more costly, about 6 dol­lars be­fore tax.

On the or­der­ing counter, three posters hang promi­nently for the cus­tomers to read. The first is about the mak­ing of bao; the sec­ond is a menu, and the third is the four Taos of the bao, which are: look, touch, taste and smell. The sim­ple but pleas­ant decor of

the eatery al­lows the cus­tomers to get an in­ti­mate peek into how bao is made through the glass win­dow.

Maybe you read­ers out there have a burn­ing ques­tion in your mind, would Amer­i­cans ac­tu­ally like bao? Tong Qi­hua replied with an air of con­fi­dence, “There are no na­tional bor­ders for gourmet treats. The key is to make them ab­so­lutely au­then­tic.” If the ham­burger is a poster child for Amer­i­can food, then, the Bao is the sym­bol of clas­si­cal Chi­nese cui­sine, and be­yond that a chan­nel of cross- cul­tural ex­change. Tom’s con­fi­dence in the mar­ketabil­ity of the bao is pre­cisely why he dared to boldly chal­lenge the great Amer­i­can sta­ple— the ham­burger— and put his eatery right next to a ham­burger restaurant in Har­vard Square.

Just as Tong Qi­hua ex­pected, Har­vard Univer­sity stu­dents are open- minded and non­judg­men­tal, and more than will­ing to ac­cept a new food as long as it’s fla­vor­ful and sat­is­fy­ing. There was a girl who ate four bao in one sit­ting and yet hadn’t had her fill. Bao has grad­u­ally be­come the del­i­cacy of many of the school’s top stu­dents and pro­fes­sors, and a “ready­made” snack for meet­ings. Many Chi­nese-Amer­i­cans com­pelled to take a nib­ble or two of Tom’s gourmet bao have given an emo­tional ac­count of their ex­pe­ri­ence sum­ma­rized as, “Tom’s Bao are like the col­lec­tive nos­tal­gia of the Chi­nese peo­ple.”

Tong Qi­hua is con­fi­dent in his ex­pan­sion plans go­ing for­ward. In the next three to five years, he plans to open 20 more bao eater­ies in the United States. He pointed out, “The United States needs Chi­nese tra­di­tional cui­sine; they’re starv­ing for it. Like the long lines at Star­bucks or McDonald’s, my Tom’s BaoBao will be the brand­name of Chi­nese bao. I have set the bar high for my­self, be­cause I will not stop un­til I make the world’s best bao.” u( From Liaon­ing

Youth , March 2017. Trans­la­tion: Qing Run)

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