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Is There a Distinctly “Vancouver” Watch?
We track down the best bao buns in town.
Celeb chef David Chang may have brought bao to the masses, but Vancouver has been putting its own spin on the Taiwanese sandwich ever since. Here’s what happened when we asked two local foodies and one avid VanMag reader to find the city’s best.
The Arbor’s vegan steamed buns are small but flavourful. “Oh shit, that’s delicious!” said Stansfield upon taking his first bite. Our other judges agreed, praising the balance of sweet and spicy elements: barbecue jackfruit, cilantro sauce, cucumber “quickles” and shiitake mushrooms. $10 (3 pcs), 3941 Main St., thearborrestaurant.ca
This was the top choice for Chow, who said he “would go back over and over” to get a taste of Heritage’s pork belly bao. The kimchi daikon mash, “gravy-esque” hoisin sauce and crisp fried onions (“These are almost like super-rad Hickory Sticks”) impressed our other judges, too—it just missed nabbing the number-one spot. $7, 1108 W Pender St., eatheritage.ca
Our taste testers all agreed that part of the attraction of a steamed bun is its “weird doughiness,” but they didn’t mind this bao’s fried exterior. They also liked its resemblance to a pulled pork sandwich; finished with pickled jalapeno, cucumber and butter lettuce, “it’s like if Memphis Blues did a bao,” said one. $6.50, 622 W Pender St., gyozabar.ca
Filled with pork belly, fresh cilantro and crushed peanuts, the bao from this Taiwanese café in the West End was the “most traditional” offering of the day: “It definitely seems no-frills,” said one. Its flavour profile was just a little too sweet for our judges, though. $6.95, 1P5–1789 Comox St., facebook.com/3quartersfullcafe
The judges liked each individual component (ahi tuna, guacamole, pea shoots, bacon, wasabi aioli) in this YVR bao, but they all agreed it was “all over the place” and too experimental: “We’re really stretching the definition here,” said Levang. $7, multiple locations, baodown.net
Alain Chow is the operations manager behind two of the city’s hottest rooms, Bao Bei and Kissa Tanto (named Best Chinatown and Best Pan-Asian, respectively, at our 2017 Restaurant Awards).
David Stansfield, a consulting sommelier and wine educator (his latest gig has him sourcing vino for Earls), suggests the winning bao be paired with a “natural beaujolais—something super high-end.”
Susan Levang is a business consultant—and our Twitter contest winner! She’s also got a fresh perspective on the city’s food scene, thanks to her role as general manager at Commissary Connect.