Hot & Steamy Buns: Bao Kitchen Argentina

IMG_6421There’s a bao revolution going on in Buenos Aires. In the past year pan “chino” al vapor has become an instant hit, creeping its way onto many of the city’s Asian-style restaurant menus. So it’s perfect timing to welcome Bao Kitchen Argentina, a new Taiwanese bistro in Retiro, who knows what’s up when mastering the steamed bun.

IMG_9681First things first, what is a bao? This standard staple in Taiwan and China, which became popular in the US thanks to chefs like David Chang and Eddie Huang, is a totally new concept in Argentina. Some compare it to a sandwich, others a burger, but I like to think of it as a dreamy pillow of steamed dough that’s stuffed with braised meat, sweet-savory sauces, and pickled vegetable crunchy goodness.

IMG_9749Bao Kitchen Argentina opened up shop a block from Plaza San Martin in the beginning of 2016, but they have been running their bun enterprise for years at fairs, festivals, and private events. It’s the creation of Meilin Klemann and her mother/cook, Liwei Fu. Meilin is one of those people if you ask her where she’s from, there’s no easy explanation. Her background is Taiwanese-German, but she grew up across Asia, Europe and South America, moving 27 times in 12 different countries. She studied Nutrition and Public Health in London, and in Argentina, she is involved in the Buddhist spiritual practice, Falun Dafa, and the international dance troop, Shen Yun. Her story alone is quite impressive.

IMG_9661Meilin comes from a culinary family: her Beijing-born grandfather opened the first French restaurant in Taiwan, and her mother has been a professor of gourmet Chinese cuisine for years. Meilin’s brother, who also shares her same love for Taiwanese street food, runs (the original) Bao Kitchen in Berlin.

IMG_9730Bao Kitchen caters to the weekday lunchtime crowd (peaking at 12:30-2:30pm, so it’s advised to avoid the lunch rush), and also opens during the afternoon/evenings on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. It’s a young restaurant, still trying to find the service groove and understand the clientele, but has already developed a devout following. When they first opened, the menu started off small serving a daily special and a couple of dishes, but now has grown (maybe too big?) to offer an ample amount of Taiwanese appetizers, soups, main dishes and desserts. They still have an affordable lunch special that changes daily, and includes refreshing Japanese iced tea and dessert.

IMG_6396Obviously the first thing you should do upon arrival is order the star of the show: Gua Bao. It’s stuffed with pork bondiola, panceta, organic stewed chicken, pickled vegetables, cilantro, peanuts, optional jalapeño and sweet potato chips. It’s one of those foods that you’d never want to give up your last bite.

IMG_9626BOW DOWN TO BAO KITCHEN’S TIGHT GUA BAO BUNZ.

IMG_9712The perfect steamed bread is baked fresh every day.

currybaoAnd then there’s the Curry Bao – which is just a marvel invention. Curry inside a bun, coated in Panko, and then deep fried. Thank you for existing. (Photo Bao Kitchen).IMG_9647

I think there’s a standard food lover’s rule: whenever available, dumplings must be ordered. Hun Tun, pork and shrimp dumplings, are served drenched in sauce, or in a bowl of soup broth. (Dear BK, can you PLEASE make xiao long bao aka SOUP DUMPLINGS? Besos xoxo)

IMG_9705One customer comes every day and orders the shrimp salad. It has lettuce, carrots, cucumber, mint, and rice noodles. The grilled shrimp is covered in a “chimichurri Taiwanés”, and super flavorful, although came out slightly overcooked. The temperature of the warm noodles threw me off – with this type of salad I want it all to be cold, crisp, and fresh.

IMG_9657A Taiwanese restaurant wouldn’t be complete without stewed eggs, these are braised in soy sauce with star anise.

IMG_9635A different style of fried chicken. Mini drumsticks are marinated in herbs and covered in bread crumbs, and then deep fried.

kongpaoAll the chicken at BKA is organic, and it’s nice to see spicy Kung Pao on the menu. Because GEORGE LIKES HIS CHICKEN SPICY.  Another plus: Mandarin chicken and Sweet & Sour pork / chicken make appearances as well. (Photo Bao Kitchen)

sanbeijiThree cup chicken, San Bei Ji, is made with a mixture of the holy trinity: soy sauce, rice wine and sesame oil. Then, it’s loaded with garlic, ginger and Thai basil for the ultimate bold flavor-packed dish. (Photo Bao Kitchen)

pechitoThe pork ribs are smothered in a sweet tangy barbecue sauce. Eating it with your hands and getting it all over your face is advised.

IMG_9670If you see fried green beans hanging around, order it.

IMG_6399   A beautiful beef broth is truly special, and the Niurou Mian, beef noodle soup with braised beef chunks, is no exception. This will be my jam on cold days. UPDATE: noodles are now homemade hand cut.

IMG_9701Slurp ‘dem noodles, girl.

IMG_9675Lu Rou Fan is a popular Taiwanese dish that’s basically bondiola and panceta braised and served with rice and eggs. It’s comforting and just the type of food you want to devour on a cold day. My only issue was with the rice, it lacked that white rice fragrance and fluffy consistency. UPDATE: Bao Kitchen has changed rice providers and it’s exactly how me likes it.

IMG_9655The creamy shrimp curry with noodles had potential, but I wanted it to pack stronger flavors, more spices, and have that heat to give it a real punch.

IMG_9711Danzi Mian is shrimp and beef broth with shrimp (again, quite mushy), noodles, egg and the lurou fan. It was clear that all the ingredients were super fresh, natural and made with love. The portions are hearty, but I didn’t feel like I was going to fall into an immediate food coma afterwards.

IMG_9732Just when I thought it was all over, Liwei brought over a total game changer that just became my summer obsession –> BAO BING!

IMG_9735Here’s how the magic happens: you take ice, crush it, put it in a large bowl, top with fresh chunks of mango, add heaping spoonfuls of coconut cream, drizzle with condensed milk, add a scoop of coconut ice cream and sprinkle fresh mint. I’d commute on the subte + colectivo during rush hour for this dessert.

IMG_9680Almost all the postres on the menu are filled with fresh fruit and a lot of coconut cream: fruit pops, fried bananas with arroz con leche, mango or banana shakes with coconut cream.

IMG_9713Before I left, I professed my love to the steamed bun, and Liwei offered to pack up some baos to go. YES, PLEASE, I’LL TAKE A DOZEN.

IMG_9721

Bao Kitchen Argentina
San Martin 960, Retiro
Monday-Thursday: 11:30-8.30pm; Friday & Saturday: 11:30am-11:30pm. *Skip the lunch rush hour from 12:30pm-2:30pm and go before or after.
Tel. 4312-5950; delivery available to the barrio
Facebook/Instagram/Twitter
Average price: 350 pesos
Lunch specials change daily, and announced on Facebook.

And check out this informative guide on Eater.com to Taiwanese cooking in the US.

 

EAT IT:

Comments

Comments

  1. Pho_fetishist says

    Been there done (some of) that.

    After reading this review I went to Bao Kitchen Argentina on a rainy Friday lunch. I arrived there around 1:30 and we found a table right away. I imagine the rainy day could had helped us avoid rush lunch, is it?

    We ordered the Bao menu (2 baos + iced tea + dessert = $120) and the Hun Tun (dumplings) noodle soup ($130). First the baos (one pork belly and one “bondiola”): the bun was great, and all the ingredients very fresh but they could have rendered more fat from the pork belly. I have to say I did not love the baos and the reason was very simple, they were too peanutty, next time I will ask “easy on the peanuts” or even “no peanuts please”. Let’s move to the soup: the broth was MAGIC, I took sip after sip feeling the acidity, the nuttyness, the richness and the aromas (star anise was there, no doubt), it is the kind of flavor that transport me I-don-not-know-where and made me feel extremely happy (full and nasty disclosure, I burped the broth through the day and I enjoyed every one of those moments). The dumpling were good but not great and the noodles, well, the noodles were NOT good, they were overcooked, soggy and tasteless (no salt?) in contrast to the chewy tasty thing you expect to find submerged in that heavenly made broth. The dessert: was a very simple no-cream banana popsicle with a butter cookie (Momofuku inspired?), not so heavy and kind of refreshing.

    We payed for all of that (Bao menu + extra iced tea + soup) the humble amount of $250 and we were really full.

    This place is definitely a keeper and I will tell you why: all the people working in Bao Kitchen love what they do and they are really proud of their products. No matter what you serve that right there is a big “check” that any place I respect must have. Plus the great freshness of ingredients and the very good price to quality ratio, but believe me, people loving what they do is what really counts in a long time healthy costumer-restaurant relationship (or all kinds of relationships).

    My advice: Go there and try as much as you can, you will find a lot of new flavors and I’m pretty sure you will end falling in love with one of them.

    • says

      Hi, Thanks for your comments and your honest post (it’s so true, we all love working in Bao Kitchen and put our heart into the place, its customers and the food)! And we now make our own noodles so you will find great tasting al-dente noodles in your soup :-). Meilin from Bao Kitchen

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