Gua bao, or split bread, is a relatively new dish, popular in Taiwanese cuisine, even though the concept of bao has been around for centuries.
For gua bao, a round of flat dough is folded in half, steamed, and then stuffed, most commonly with braised pork belly, pickled vegetables, cilantro, and sugared peanuts. The combination of soft, warm, slightly sweet bread works well with the fatty meat, while the pickled vegetables cut through the fattiness and work with the sugared peanuts to add a slight crunch.
The term bao is often used interchangeably for gua bao and baozi buns, which feature assorted fillings steamed or baked inside the bread. So take care when ordering: the two options are very different.The sandwich-like nature of gua bao lends itself more easily to adaptation. Filling the buns after cooking allow the fillings to maintain their original integrity, really opening up the playing field for chefs.
Washingtonian recently listed bao among the food trends it's sick of spotting on D.C. menus. Perhaps by looking at the concentration of locations in the city proper, rather than in enclaves filled with Taiwanese and Chinese restaurants, a case could be made that the dish appears to be more popular among the Instagram crowd than with traditionalists. Recent developments — including the addition of Wow Bao at Ronald Reagan National Airport, and newcomer Bao Bar in Clarendon — suggest that the business community seems determined to mine this phenomenon for all it's worth.
But just because something is trendy or ubiquitous doesn't mean that it should go away. With spots such as Bun'd Up incorporating delicious and unique ingredients like its pineapple-heavy fruit kimchi, there's still plenty of room for gua bao in D.C.
Know of any other must-try bao?. Share in the comments below or sound off via email (firstname.lastname@example.org).Read More