Forbes / Designer Street Food: Reinvented Baos Are Capturing Younger Audiences

By Keshia Hannam

Baos have become omnipresent and multifarious. Progressing from their role as an Asian street food staple, they’ve gained recognition on an international stage. There are restaurants from London to Vancouver dedicated to the fluffy steamed bun, and in India they’ve even been compared to the internet phenomena: the Cronut. The constantly hash-tagged sensations differ from their traditional Chinese/Taiwanese street-food ancestors (baozi), and sell for exponentially more as a result. These are designer baos, served in eateries that cater to younger diners, and are filled with locally inspired (and sometimes sourced), niche ingredients.

The pure white bun ineluctably conjures scenes in many major cities in South East Asia, whether pork belly gua bao in Taiwan, custard bao eaten as yum cha in Hong Kong or rou bao (wheat flour skin with a ball of minced pork) in Shanghai. In these metropolitans, the general population still subsists on the original street food at a lower cost, but there’s unequivocally a new market emerging that sees queues outside the likes of Little Bao in Hong Kong, or Baoism in Shanghai, hungry for the more sophisticated and admittedly delicious food. Even if this means taking what might cost as little as 15 HKD (2 USD) in Taipei, or 20 HKD in Hong Kong and cranking it up to nearly 80 HKD (10 USD).


Owner and chef of wildly popular Little Bao, May Chow, is aware her restaurant commands “a very small niche market compared to how the masses are eating. The general public is still very price sensitive and it directly relates to their income. What we’re talking about is a very small part of how most people dine.” However, her baos–which are a unique burger-meets-bao creation–have caused enough stir that she’s opening in Bangkok with a second Little Bao, and a gastropub in Tai Hang (Hong Kong) this July. Chow says:

Baos has always been Asia’s comfort food, and we have always held on to our fondness for charsiu baos, salted egg yolk custard baos, etc. The love has never changed. The biggest influence is that I think the foodie world globally has become enamoured with Asian food. With a huge Asian population worldwide, especially in the western countries, the influence of Asian food is strong. Baos, pho, ramen, sushi; they’ve all reached a pinnacle. The flavours are exotic and varied and people’s palettes have developed to crave them.

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