Shop 4/19-37 A’Beckett St
CBD, VIC 3000
(03) 9654 7887
Were you ever one of those kids who brought lunch to school only to get baffled stares or reactions like, ‘dude, what is that?’ I, for one, generated many a baffled stare as I pulled out not a ham and cheese sandwich from my Hello Kitty lunchbox, but something completely foreign to my four square buddies. Every so often, my mom would send me off to school with a mammoth steamed pork bun with the works – Chinese sausage, quail egg, vermicelli noodles, you name it, it was in there. Needless to say, I tried to bolt that thing down before anybody noticed and started berating me with questions.
It’s crazy how times have changed. These days, Aussie natives twirl chopsticks around with dizzying technique (well, maybe I’m the only one impressed because I’m absolutely hopeless at using them). Chinese cuisine no longer simply equates to fried rice and spring rolls. There even seems to be some sort of bao revival in full swing, with up and comers Wonderbao and Bao Now winning over hungry Melburnians left, right and centre.
My sister – who’s an interior design student at RMIT – had heard all about Wonderbao and was just as keen as I was to try it out, so, one Friday, we meandered our way through the city’s cobblestoned laneways to see what all the fuss was about. And to see how these bao or ‘siopao’ (as Filipinos like to call them) measured up to the ones we enjoyed growing up.
The space is absolutely tiny! Even though it wasn’t particularly busy when we got there – which was about three in the afternoon – we still had to wait a while for the five or so stools by the window to free up. That… and we weren’t feeling hipster enough to sit on the plastic crates outside.
Wonderbao’s menu is simple but caters to just about everybody. There are vegetarian and sweet options to tickle everyone’s pickle.
First up, we ordered two of the char siu bao (2.0 each), my personal favourite. I’m thrilled to report that they didn’t disappoint – the meat was deliciously sticky and sweet. On top of that, the ratio of BBQ pork to bao was perfect, and the bun itself was nice and soft. We followed these up with one of the braised pork belly gua bao (3.8). For anyone, like me, who has never had an open style bao before, behold – the Asian taco! The braised meat was beautifully tender and packed so much flavour, along with the pickled mustard, crushed peanuts and coriander sprigs. The super-thick layer of fat was slightly off-putting, though.
The roast pork belly gua bao (also 3.8) reminded me a little of the banh mi that we buy from our favourite Springvale bakery. Filled with cucumber, pickled carrots, daikon and hoisin sauce, this number played the sourness of the pickled carrots off the sweetness of the hoisin sauce nicely. The pork belly skin, however, was crazy salty for some reason. I had to slurp down the rest of my lychee F.O.B drink (1.6) – as the menu explicitly labelled it, not trying to be racist, promise! – like there was no tomorrow.
Overall, the tasty treats on offer at Wonderbao were heaps better than I expected, despite a few hiccups. They definitely make for cheap, on-the-go snacks for RMIT students and commuters alike. About ten years too late, but who am I to complain? Pork buns for everyone, I say!