When I was invited to learn how to build my own bao with chef Jeremy Pang of School of Wok at Holborn’s Cha Chaan Teng, I jumped at the chance! I’ve barely eaten bao, let alone made one so I was really excited.
Cha Chaan Teng is an absolute gem of a find. When you enter, you descend down stairs to a bar and restaurant which has a real Pan Am feel.
Chef Jeremy explained Cha Chaan Teng’s origins. In Hong Kong in the 50’s, people were curious about Western food so Cha Chaan Teng’s sprung up. They are basically tea houses that serve eclectic East meets West food. So the restaurant is styled like a 1950’s Cha Chaan Teng with some modern street art by New York artist Dane – and it’s fabulous! I LOVE a bit of kitsch.
After a Cha Chaan Teng spritz (rhubarb, Campari, passion fruit and sparkling wine) and getting to know the other bloggers, it was time to learn all about bao. Bao are steamed buns that are then filled with anything you like. They’re kind of like a sandwich or burger – but more exotic!
Chef Jeremy explained how the dough for the bao is made and that the flour is very fine. Ever wondered how the bao is so white? The flour is bleached!
Making bao dough is a science as you have to be aware of the humidity of the kitchen. The more humid it is, the less water you will need. The dough should feel a bit elastic and needs time to prove before you can steam them.
Using dough he made earlier, Jeremy then demonstrated how you construct the bao. You need a piece the size of a doorknob and then break that in half. You then use your index finger and thumb to pinch the dough at the top and squeeze and twist it into a round shape. Once you have two round balls, you then squash one with a flat hand, put a little bit of oil over it then place the other ball on top and squash that one down. Then they go into the oven to steam.
Jeremy made it look so easy but of course it wasn’t…. I just couldn’t quite master the pinch, squeeze and twist technique.
They didn’t turn out too badly in the end though! Although mine were a bit smaller than everyone else’s, which was really very silly of me since we were going to eat them later. I was selling myself short!
Once the first batch of bao had gone off to be steamed, it was time to learn how to make bao where the filling is inside before steaming – so more like a dumpling. Once again Jeremy demonstrated the technique and once again, I didn’t do a very good job!
While the filled bao went in to steam, we were served the bao we had made with a choice of three fillings. This is what you can expect from Cha Chaan Teng’s chefs when you order from the bao bar…. they look amazing, right?
I chose the crispy duck, salt and pepper quid and the spicy beef short rib. So these were the bao made by my fair hands, with the filling by the chefs.
Despite not looking as polished as the chef’s version, they tasted amazing! We were encouraged to add beetroot, carrot and some watercress and red onion and wasabi mayo – if we wanted to.
After the sliders, we were served the filled bao which I completely forgot to photograph! Mine had cracked at the top, which is referred to as ‘laughing bao’. They were filled with BBQ hoisin & Coca Cola ribs and were super yummy.
I had such a great time learning to build my own bao and I absolutely loved the restaurant and the concept. I’m already planning a return visit with friends.