119 Hardware St,
Melbourne, VIC 3000
03 9670 6394
In case you have been living in a cave, bao is in right now in Melbourne. Not that these little steamed Asian meat buns were a rarity before, just that they have always been relegated to the narrow streets of Chinatown, Bourke St. Now it just feels like everyone is munching on these little sacks of dough, touted as a healthy snack option.
Prior to this review word of mouth got to me that two new places just opened up, both were selling paos. I found the timing curious. Anyone who has had experience working in the restaurant industry can tell you that can’t be a coincidence. Even more curious was how the owners plan to sell the concept of the humble bao to a city that has such an organic and flaky food scene.
Allow me to elaborate. A bao is a bao is a bao. There are only that many (acceptable) variations out there. You have the original meat buns with barbecue pork or chicken. Then there’s the vegetarian version and the sweet selections that traditionally come with lotus and red bean paste. There may be flavors that appeal to specific regions such as kaya (coconut egg jam) but that’s pretty much it.
Not only that, as with anything that originated from Asia it’s a given that one of the prerequisites of a successful venture is pleasing the Asian market. I can tell you with first hand experience that the Asian diaspora community are the hardest taste buds to please.
Which comes back to the review. Out of the two establishments, Bao Now stands out more not only because they address the few issues I highlighted above but also because they appear to be genuinely passionate about reinventing baos and contributing to Melbourne’s vibrant food scene.
The tiny little bao shop was started by two friends, both formerly involved in the IT sector who wanted to bring something unique to Melbourne. As their former profession involved a lot of traveling, it contributed to their passion for food and fueled their creativity. So instead of sticking to the tried and tested recipes the duo decided to infuse their baos with unique ‘global’ flavors.
Here you’ll find the funkiest of fusions some familiar such as bacon & egg and vanilla custard. Some sound intriguing like vanilla cheesecake (my personal favorite) and spicy buffalo wings. And some just plain odd: spinach & feta anyone?
In addition to their staple of internationally influenced flavors the Bao Now kitchen also comes up a new flavor every week ala Cupcake Central style. As part of their Secret Word Tuesday campaign you can actually get these Flavor of the Week baos for free if you subscribe and pay attention to their Facebook page. What’s a little loss of privacy when there’s free snacks up for grabs eh?
So purists and posh-eaters be warned, this may not be the place for you if you’re expecting traditional paos just like ‘back home’. Recommended only for the adventurous and avid foodies.
The Final Word:
Is it worth the hype?
Yup. In going a totally different direction Bao Now has set itself apart from their counterparts. Until the next wannabe bao entrepreneur comes along I think Bao Now has secured its place in the burgeoning bao market.
Is it worth the price?
Yes. At first glance their baos may seem smaller than what we’re used to but to be honest most paos in the market are dressed up to look big and hardly have much filling. At least with Bao Now’s you get a good bun, filling ratio. Plus I’ve been told that they don’t use bleached flour for their buns and lean more towards organic products.
Will I come back again?
Three words: Secret Word Tuesday! No but in all seriousness I do appreciate the passion that these guys put into their creations. Always have been a sucker for creative and quirky types, plus it’s hard not to root for the underdogs.