If you'd have asked someone 5 years ago what a bao was they'd look at you as if you'd just kicked their gran in the face.
Nowadays though these little steamed buns filled with a variety of delights are everywhere and here are our most favourite ones in Manchester ever...
Karaage Cauliflower at Cocktail Beer Ramen + Bun
You’ve got a few buns to choose from at Cocktail Beer Ramen + Bun (or CBRB to save my repetitive strain injury ridden fingers) but my favourite is definitely their excellent vegan offering; the Karaage Cauliflower. It's not easy to make a cauliflower interesting but they've managed to actually pull it off - mainly by coating it in a spicy, crispy batter and throwing on some pickled onion and a lovely vegan gochujang mayo. To be fair though - you could have ANY of them off this menu and you'll be as happy as a bloke called Larry.
Cocktail Beer Ramen + Bun, 101-103 Oldham St, Manchester M4 1LW
Wagyu Short Rib at Cottonopolis
Here we go. Our pick of the best bao in the city and of course – it’s Cottonopolis and their frankly stunning Wagyu brisket option which also comes stuffed with pickled mushrooms and a brilliant whiskey glaze. You certainly can’t go wrong with Wagyu beef, generally considered to be the best in the world, and the stuff that Cottonopolis get from Warrendale Farm in East Yorkshire is nothing shy of spectacular. There are other options on the menu but it just has to be this one.
Cottonopolis, 16 Newton St, Manchester M1 2AE
0161 236 5144
Pork, Katsu Chicken & Cod Mini Buns at Wallace & Sons
Calling yourself 'The Bao Boss' takes a certain amount of confidence but once you tuck into one of Wallace & Sons' brilliant buns you'll find yourself agreeing with such a bold claim. John Wallace has been making these belting buns for a couple of years now, travelling far and wide to show off his culinary skills, and if you manage to find yourself at an event where he's serving up - you should go for his Mini Buns, a selection of bao that takes the pain out of deciding what you really want. You'll get a Chicken Katsu Bun, a Pork Bun and a Salt Cod Bun and you'll love them all - trust me.
Beef Bao @ Dim Sum Su
Usually found working tirelessly at one of the city's street food 'area thingies' (like Hatch or GRUB or Stretford Mall) - Dim Sum Su's steamed bao buns are hard to beat and oh so easy to devour all too quickly. There's plenty on choice, with 2 vegan options, a couple of chicken ones and this - the Crispy Beef. It's topped with spring onions, peanuts and Sriracha mayo. Perfect.
Rump Steak Bao @ Hanoi 75
Any trip to Hatch and it's impossible not to notice the huge bloody double decker bus parked right in the middle of it. This is Hanoi 75, a Vietnamese restaurant that has recently started offering up bao buns - and they're absolutely mega! I went for their Rump Steak Bao and was bowled over not just by how nice it was but also by how much there was in there. The tender rump is joined by chilli mayo, pickled veg, crispy shallots and a bit of fresh chilli.
Hanoi 75, 103 Oxford Rd, Manchester M1 7ED
Crispy Pork Belly Bao @ NAM
Okay, so NAM is Vietnamese - so what are they doing with a Taiwanese dish on their menu?! Well, they've put their own little NAM twist on the bao and I must say - they're excellent. At the moment you've got the choice of a mega Crispy Pork Belly one, or a Fried Tumeric Banana Blossom. One of NAM's strong points have always been the small plates - so grab 5/6 of 'em and go mad.
NAM, Unit 2, 33 Blossom St, Ancoats, Manchester M4 6AJ
Buffalo Chicken Bao @ Wolf at the Door
Combining an age old traditional Taiwanese steamed dish with Bunny Jacksons is a genius move from the team over at Wolf at the Door and we'll be forever grateful to them for it. Inside this bao you'll find everything you would if you were watching the Super Bowl in some dive bar in Texas, complete with perfectly crisp and succulent chicken, slaw, a wickedly tingly buffalo sauce and the cherry on top – Bunny Jackson’s Blue Cheese Sauce.
Wolf at the Door currently aren't offering their Bao Buns but they'll be back on the menu soon.
Wolf at the Door, 30-32 Thomas St, Manchester M4 1ER