The dumpling obsession is universal. From Polish pierogi, to gyoza in Japan and Italy’s love for ravioli, people the world over enjoy a good dumpling. So it was only a matter of time that some bright spark in Perth would dedicate a food stall to the humble gua-bao.
Literally translated to cut bread, gua-bao is a Taiwanese snack food usually comprised of braised meat and condiments sandwiched between fluffy, sweet white bread. Coincidentally, ‘bao’ rhymes with wow and it’s a steamed parcel of carbs, pork and magic that has everyone talking.
So what does it take to reach Level 99 Bao Master? I caught up with The Bao Bar’s Aaron Chew after steaming endless serves of bao at Whipper Snapper’s Small Batched whiskey and food fest, to find out how he went from making a killer packet of Mee Goreng at age 10 to running his own pop up.
You must have heard my cry for help, I've been longing for a specialty bao pop up. What drove you to open The Bao Bar?
The Chinese food in Perth is predominantly Cantonese style cuisine with some influences from Malaysia and Singapore cuisine. This is what we have all grown up with and it really has not evolved over the years.
The Bao Bar was created to show the people of Perth the diversity that exists within Chinese culture, using food as the medium to share those stories. I want people to know that Chinese food is much more than just Dim Sum or your typical No. 34 Sweet and Sour Chicken.
The heart and soul of true Chinese cuisine lays within its street food. It’s those daily staples in Chinese populated countries such as Taiwan, Singapore and Hong Kong, that really shine. Bao (more specifically gua-bao) is the perfect vessel to showcase Chinese style street food. Its already proven to be a popular concept abroad in America and all over in the eastern states. Its about time Perth got their bao on!
So who is behind The Bao Bar?
The Bao Bar is run by yours truly, Aaron Chew , Level 99 Bao Master (with a few amazing partners). I’ve also been lucky enough to rope in a bunch of friends who take time out to help me in exchange for delicious bao and good times.
Is this your first foray into the food world?
Well my parents used to own a little Chinese takeaway joint Bentley "Chew's Chinese Takeaway" (10 points to anyone who actually can remember it or ever went there). I spent my childhood years running around the place. Around the age of 10, I got acquainted with the kitchen experimenting with noodle soup, rice dishes, pasta and roast meats. I could also make a mean packet of the infamous Mee Goreng! But yes, The Bao Bar is my first flirtation with the real deal.
What has inspired your menu offerings?
The menu is inspired by a plethora moments; from recipes which I have grown up with, to things which I have eaten throughout my life, and those discovered on my travels around the world. I wanted to take well known flavours in Chinese cuisine and give it a modern twist by serving it in a gua-bao. I’ve placed important on trying not to stray too far away from traditional flavours and always finding a way to relate it back to its original roots. If I fail to do that it defeats the whole purpose of what it is I'm trying to achieve.
Obviously, you have been taste testing bao all over the world. Can you name any that have just rocked your world?
Hands down, Grandma's.
And so, my last question, the mum test! I know firsthand how critical Asian mums can be of honing your craft. What has your mum thought of your baos?
My mum is (and possibly forever will be) against the idea of opening up a pop up bao shop instead of being an accountant, doctor, engineer or lawyer. She on occasion has come in and eaten some of my baos and at times can be full of criticism, "why didn't you do this instead?", "why does it look so ugly?", "why you serve so much … are you trying to lose money?", it goes on and on. But lately she hasn't really said anything negative. I’ll make bao and she would eat it, look at me and then walk away. I’m just going to take that as the best compliment! In my books, her response of silence is pretty much the equivalent of being awarded a Michelin Star.