all about bao

The World of Chinese - - Journey To The Best -

Bei­jing’s Qingfeng Baozi 北京庆丰包子铺

Bei­jing is known for its chain of Qingfeng Baozi, a blue-col­lar brand with a 60-year his­tory that ar­guably peaked in 2013, when Pres­i­dent Xi Jin­ping dropped by for a ca­sual visit. Pho­tos of Xi queu­ing to buy baozi went vi­ral, and Qingfeng quickly in­tro­duced the “Pres­i­dent Set” meal—six baozi filled with pork and scal­lions, with stir-fried liver and greens on the side. Things didn’t stop there: The ta­ble and chairs where Xi ate were re­moved and sent to the com­pany head­quar­ters; the Gu­lou lo­ca­tion be­came an of­fi­cial stop on do­mes­tic pack­age tours; and the oth­er­wise shabby chain launched an ag­gres­sive ex­pan­sion plan, in­clud­ing a “steamed bun re­search cen­ter.”

Tian­jin’s Goubuli 天津狗不理

The ti­tle “China’s No.1 Bao” is claimed by a brand from a neigh­bor­ing city, Tian­jin—goubuli, which means “dogs ig­nore.” The baozi that even dogs don’t care about ap­peared in 1858, al­though the name ac­tu­ally refers to the nick­name of its late Qing dy­nasty founder Gouzai, or “Puppy,” who in­sisted he was too busy mak­ing bao to speak with cus­tomers. Even Em­press Dowa­ger Cixi, known for her so­phis­ti­cated taste, was a fan of Gouzai’s baozi, pro­claim­ing, “The goat run­ning around in the moun­tains, the wild geese fly­ing be­tween the clouds, the cat­tle and sheep in the fields, and the rare seafood liv­ing in the deep ocean—none are as ap­pe­tiz­ing as Goubuli. One can live long by eat­ing it.” To­day, Goubuli has 98 va­ri­eties of baozi and has left be­hind its reg­u­lar roots: a plate of eight buns costs over 200 RMB, earn­ing the restau­rant the nick­name “LV baozi” (its English name is Go Be­lieve). The changes have ap­par­ently turned off lo­cals. “We don’t eat Goubuli any­more. They just ex­ist to earn money from tourists,” says Tian­jin na­tive Tang Ya­jun, 35. “When my gen­er­a­tion was young, Goubuli baozi were still some­thing or­di­nary fam­i­lies could af­ford. But to­day, no one goes there ex­cept out of nos­tal­gia.”

Shang­hai’s Pan-fried Baozi and Xin­jiang’s Baked Baoz­i上海生煎包和新疆烤包子

If there’s one thing all these bao have in com­mon, it’s steam. That’s not the case in Xin­jiang, where baozi is baked un­til it turns brown and crispy. And in east­ern ar­eas like Shang­hai, there are also pan­fried baozi, called shengjian (生煎, “raw pan-fried,”) or shengjian­bao, which have a thick, crunchy, slightly oily base. Dur­ing cook­ing, wa­ter is sprayed on the buns to en­sure that the top, which is not sup­posed to touch the pan or the oil, re­mains soft.

Cha Siu Bao 叉烧包

In Can­tonese-speak­ing re­gions, bao is rep­re­sented by a pop­u­lar kind of dim sum, cha siu bao: Snowy white, cracked open at the top, and filled with bar­be­cued pork ( cha siu). Though they might look sim­i­lar to steamed baozi, the dough of cha siu bao use both yeast and bak­ing pow­der as leav­en­ing, giv­ing the dough a soft yet firm tex­ture.

Liushabao 流沙包

Sweet tooths may en­joy liushabao, or “quick­sand bao,” an­other Can­tonese snake made with salted egg yolk, wheat starch, but­ter, and milk. The hot cus­tard runs out of the fluffy wrap­per like quick­sand on first bite— so don’t risk jab­bing it with a chop­stick like a cer­tain life­style mag­a­zine en­cour­ages.

Baozza 包萨

Chi­nese and for­eign me­dia, in­clud­ing Peo­ple’s Daily On­line and the AP, went wild for this Amer­i­can-de­signed, Ital­ian-in­spired con­coc­tion, when it de­buted ear­lier this year at food fairs and pop-up restau­rants. Fed up with the dodgy fill­ings and stodgy dough that are the mainstay of many baozi, two Amer­i­cans hired a baozi mas­ter to fill a light, fluffy, slightly herbed bun with a va­ri­ety of pizza-like in­gre­di­ents (pep­per­oni, tomato, cheese, jalapenos), cre­at­ing a hy­brid gourmet “baozza” that seemed to de­light in­ter­na­tional food­ies as much as an­noy tra­di­tion­al­ists. When TWOC of­fered a sam­ple to one lo­cal ven­dor, he ve­he­mently in­sisted that most Chi­nese would hate the cheese fill­ing, and pre­fer his best-sell­ing mush­room va­ri­ety—but the brand’s grow­ing pop­u­lar­ity sug­gests oth­er­wise.

Clockwise from top left: cha­si­ubao; steamer bas­ket for cook­ing bao; baked bao; reg­u­lar steamed bao; pan­fried shengjian­bao; and liushabao

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