Saturday, 3 December 2011

Bao down

Meat bao: £1.50, other fillings are less.

Newport Court,

Baozi look unappetisingly like a member of the frontbench caught with a rentboy - pale, puffy, doughy, sweaty, clammy to the touch. Of course, the resemblance is purely aesthetic, we all know that Tories taste of the babies they had for dinner last night (single mums, if they're on a diet), while baozi leak porky soup all over your hands on a cold winter's afternoon.

At the top of Newport Court in Chinatown, there are two places selling baozi. One is a shop with two impatient women behind the counter, the other is a stall (affiliated with Yang Guang Supermarket, according to their bags) with one impatient woman behind the counter. Impatience is their only similarity.  The stall's pork baozi are hefty, meaty things. A bite through the inch-thick dough reveals a large meatball, flavoured with ginger, garlic and chives. Hours of steaming in the stall's glass cases produce a thick, slightly fatty juice that collects at the bottom of the bun, imbuing the sticky dough with meat. When (not if) this juice gets on your fingers and around your mouth, the flavours seem to linger even after washing. The vegetable bun is the same, only minus the meat, and with a hefty dose of ginger that will perk you up no end. The red bean paste bun sinks sweetly into your stomach, obviating the need for a meal any time soon.

The baozi shop's pork buns are a different beast from those at the stall's. Rather than a meatball, their smaller buns contain chunks of pork sitting in a thick sauce of what tastes like soy, sugar, ginger and garlic. The sweetness seems extraneous, the meat too salty and in too-small chunks. The shop also sells skewers of various kinds that they will cook and then dip in a variety of sauces. The meat ones, especially, look like they are worth trying. Weirdly, the shop doesn't take coppers. Not the policeman, but the coins, which is why I tend to go to the stall - they'll gladly take my shrapnel.

Two baozi shops on one street (albeit in Chinatown) is, I hope, the first step towards pork buns becoming ubiquitous in London.