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Bao: Portable Packets of Flavor
Bao can function as a snack, a meal—even a dessert, depending on what’s inside the steamed bun. Peruse the several faces of bao with Groupon’s survey.
Hand-sized steamed yeast buns stuffed with meat, vegetables, or sweet fillings. Many cultures boast a dish that fits that bill, and China’s version is bao. The foundation of all bao is a dough that’s pale, pillowy, and slightly sweet, cooked by steam heat until it’s plump and fluffy. From there, it’s likely to take one of two forms, and depending on which one North American diners encounter first, they may come away believing that bao is either a dumpling or a sandwich. The first variety is known as baozi or xiaobao, diminutive Cantonese-born spheres pinched together at the top around such morsels as shrimp, tofu, or sweet red-bean paste. These are popular in dim sum restaurants and as an appetizer, in which an order may consist of an entire steamer full. The second, gua bao, is a larger bun split down the center like a clamshell or a puffed-up taco, with fillings that aren’t steamed inside the dough but added afterward.
A much-beloved stuffing in both cases is roasted, marinated pork, or char siu, served with some sweet-and-sour combination of pickled mustard greens or cucumbers, crushed peanuts, sugar, hoisin sauce, and scallions. David Chang of New York City’s Momofuku is popularly credited with kicking off a gourmet bao craze in the US with a version of gua bao that relies on thick slabs of marbled berkshire pork belly.