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The Year of the Bao

I will start with a confession. Up until about two years back, I had no clue what a bao is. Yes, I had heard of folks raving about the pork belly bao at The Table but I had it filed away as something steamed and meaty that doesn't really concern me. Then Cafe Nemo opened and a little over a year back, I had my first taste of their tofu and mushroom baos.

Since then, it looks to me that everyone is putting a bao or two on the menu. The Fatty Bao opened earlier this year with a menu that left everyone raving about pork bellies. And The Bao Haus followed a few months later, doing a 'delivery only' business. But not all baos are created equal. There is monkey bar doing a paneer bhurji steamed bun, and Social calls its pita sandwiches 'pita baos' to cash in on the excitement. It can get pretty confusing.

If you are a vegetarian and a bao newbie like me, look no further. I have checked out all the baos and pseudo-baos in town, skipped over the pork bellied ones and picked the top three veggie baos for you to feast on.

The Fatty Bao: With layers of fillings and sauces that offer textural and flavour contrasts, The Fatty Bao's buns pack a punch. My unlikely favourite turned out to be the fried eggplant bao you see up there, with miso marinated eggplant, kimchi and a shot of sriracha. The garlic loaded mushroom bao is also great but I will personally stay a bit far from the mock meat one.

Cafe Nemo: The first one to put a vegetarian bao on its menu, Cafe Nemo still rocks with their mushroom bao that comes loaded with herbs and peanuts. It's a bit on the spicy side though. Your other option is their excellent tofu. Just like the Fatty Bao, I will stay away from the mock meat one. Really folks, if I wanted meat, I will eat meat.

The Bao Haus: The newest kid on the block has set up a delivery only service out of a kitchen in downtown Colaba. They only serve in South Bombay at the moment, so my tasting of their baos happened at their kitchen. I'm saying this because I am not certain how well these baos travel and whether they will be still as soft as hour or so later. But eaten fresh, the baos were flavourful with layers of ingredients and homemade sauces.

My favourite at the Bao Haus is their quinoa bao that comes topped with heaps of arugula and beet chips. The only other vegetarian bao on their menu is the fried tofu one. I loved the flavours and the peanut/herb contrast but this could be bit spicy if you don't each much chilli. You can of course go down the spicy route and promptly follow it up with their chocolate bao. Full of banana slices and marshmallows, the bao is way too sweet but it's new and different and fun to have, at least the first time round.


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