Bao 101: What It Really Is And Where To Find Them In Manila

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Chinese food has been an integral part of our local cuisine that it’s nearly impossible to imagine everyday Filipino fare without it. In fact, there are so many Chinese dishes that we see all the time that local food trends don’t usually notice them. But that has started to change recently, especially with the growing number of bao dishes being served by different restaurants in the metro!

So how much do you know about bao? Is it really what you think it is? Read on and find out!

What exactly is a bao?

The word ‘bao’ is actually short for baozi and is actually the term used to generally refer to steamed, filled buns. Some of these buns may have a bread-like texture and can hold a different variety of fillings and toppings.

Assortment of dim sum in bamboo steamers.

Assortment of dim sum in bamboo steamers.

Going with that definition, many kinds of dimsum fall under this category. Xiao Long Bao is one example of a bao. The local favorite siopao is another.

So what exactly is this bao trend we’re seeing in the metro?

The bao that we’re seeing in Chinese and other Asian restaurants here in Manila these days is actually another kind of bao that we happen to already know very well, the cua pao. Also spelled as gua bao, it’s a snack that originated from Taiwan and is made up of a flat steamed bread usually folded in half so that it can hold other ingredients.

Bao sandwich

Bao sandwich

Traditional cua pao fillings include pork belly, cilantro, ground peanuts, and pickled vegetables.

Already craving for baos? Here’s where you can find them

1. Bao MNL

If you’re hoping to find a variety of food in just one venue, food parks and bazaars are the go-to places. In particular, if you happen to be nursing a really bad bao craving, look for Bao MNL. While it does participate in different food bazaars every now and then, Bao MNL can be regularly found every Saturday in the Salcedo Market!

Some of the baos you’ll find on the menu include the Bao’s On Crack, which is made up of oven-roasted pork belly with an Asian BBQ sauce and Sriracha mayo. Those who enjoy Korean flavors will love the Gangnam Bao, which is made up of gochujang chicken, black sasame mayo, and homemade pickled vegetables.

Bao MNL is available every Saturday at the Salcedo Market, Tordesillas Street, Salcedo Village, Makati

2. Ippudo

Ippudo is known for being one of the top ramen restaurants here in the metro. But did you know that you can find some really delicious bao here too? Composed of a braised pork belly and Ippudo’s signature sauce, the Pork Bun is a crowd favorite and pairs so well with any ramen you choose!

Ippudo

Photo from Charlene J.’s looloo review for Ippudo

“Oh my. I don’t even know how to explain how good it was,” Charlene J. says in her looloo review. “The pork was sooooo soft and easy to chew. It was soooo easy to love. All of the components of the dish worked so well together.”

Ippudo has branches in SM Megamall, Uptown Place Mall, Robinsons Place Manila, SM Mall of Asia, and Eastwood City.

3. Don Bao

Another restaurant that highlights the bao as the star of the menu is Don Bao! Though there are other items on the menu, the baos are more than enough to fill your tummy. “The baos are delicious and the bun itself is pretty thick,” Marjorie G. says in her looloo review. “Just one bao was enough to make me feel full. Definitely more filling than the regular burger that we buy from fast-food chains.”

Don Bao

Photo from Marjorie G.’s looloo review for Don Bao

There are seven different kinds of bao to choose from and you’ll surely find the right one that matches your preference! Marjorie G. recommends the Crazy Bao (kani coated in eel sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, tempura flakes, and tobiko), Fire Bao (pork katsu, Sriracha mayonnaise, cabbage, and pickles), and Bao Chicka Bao Bao (chicken katsu, coriander, black sasame, and kimchi).

Don Bao is located at 1 Brixton Street, Kapitolyo, Pasig.

4. Bao on the Block

From the words “It’s bao or never” on the wall to the names of its baos, everything about Bao on the Block will surely catch your attention. For example, the Dragon Ball Z, whose name and fiery spicy kick is the right ode to that anime many of us loved to watch growing up, is one of the bao options you can choose from.

Bao on the Block

Deep fried ice cream bao from Ruth D.’s looloo review for Bao on the Block

Bao on the Block is also one of the places that serves dessert baos! The Deep Fried Ice Cream Bao provides a twist on the usually steamed bun. It’s served with ice cream, a chocolate drizzle, and some graham cracker crumbs!

Bao on the Block is located at 52 Sgt. Esguerra Avenue, South Triangle, Quezon City

5. The Wild Poppy

Makati’s Poblacion area is one of the hippest foodie havens in the metro. And if you’re in the area and in dire need of a bao fix, this is where you’ll find The Wild Poppy! The Wild Poppy is all about all things Asian so expect a fusion of different familiar flavors with each dish!

Wild Poppy

Photo from Unisse C.’s looloo review for Wild Poppy

When it comes to baos, there’s the Hoi, Belly which is made up of a braised and pan-seared pork belly that has been glazed with some hoisin sauce (hence, the name). If you’re looking for a bao with a little chili kick, try the Bao Wow. “Their bao was WOW!” Midz S. says in her looloo review. “The dish had soft, white buns, with braised pork belly with sriracha sauce on the inside topped with their Asian slaw to add a little crunch. I was impressed with the tenderness of their pork belly. It was so easy to bite, no matter how thick that pork was.”

The Wild Poppy is located at 2/F, 5666 Don Pedro Street, Poblacion, Makati

6. Ping Pong Diplomacy

East meets west over at Ping Pong Diplomacy. Although it is a Chinese restaurant, don’t be surprised if you find American influences all over the menu. The Szechuan Pork Belly Burger, for example, is a fusion of the Chinese bao and the American burger. Sounds really good, right? Why not head over to Ping Pong Diplomacy to give it a try!

Ping Pong Diplomacy is located at 3/F SM Aura Premier, McKinley Parkway corner 26th Street, Bonifacio Global City, Taguig

7. Liberty Asian Refuge and Bar

Many foodies consider Asian cuisine as the ultimate comfort food. Pair it with good drinks and they’re good to go. This is exactly what you’ll get over at Liberty Asian Refuge and Bar!

A crowd favorite is the Miso Pork Belly Bao and it’s something you shouldn’t forget to order. “It was an explosion of flavor,” Joy Vee A. describes in her looloo review. “From the soft bun, tender juicy pork belly, sweet and little tangy from the apple and pear kimchi, with the nutty flavour from toasted nuts.”

Liberty Asian Refuge and Bar is located at Eastwood City Walk 1, Rodriguez Jr. Avenue, Eastwood City, Quezon City

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About Author

Bella Javier

Bella is a lover of all things sweet, a multi-time winner of the timeless children’s party and icebreaker game, Name That Tune, and a self-proclaimed queen of wishful thinking. A wanderer whose hunger lasts 24/7 and a proud owner of an oldies playlist mixed with songs she can sing fluently but does not understand, she’ll choose neither Edward or Jacob when asked that same old question.