A bao (also known as bau or baozi) is simply a steamed, filled bun or any bread-like item that has been made with yeast. The traditional Chinese buns can be enjoyed at any meal, but were originally eaten for breakfast or as a street-food snack. Now found on many a dim sum menu, the fluffy breads can be served in a ball, crammed with flavourful meats and veggies, or sliced open and used as vessel for fillings like sweet pork belly. Here are our top spots in Cape Town to grab a bite of flavourful filled bao.
Beijing Opera (Waterkant)
Dim sum is the speciality here, and their robust broths are full of depth and flavour. Their cloud-like steamed bao buns go for R15 a piece, and are filled with Cantonese-style sweet and sticky barbecue pork, minced pork or chicken with seasonal veggies. You can also order a spring onion and chive bun with no filling that’s perfect for dipping in one of their aromatic soups.
Downtown Ramen (City Bowl)
This popular eatery pleases locals with bowls of lip-smacking ramen and simple but flavoursome steamed buns. Sink your teeth into one of the three vibrant bao options for R35 each. The charsu pork belly with citrus pickles is delicious, as is the beer-braised short rib beef. But the firm favourite has to be the vegetarian option filled with smoky aubergine and teriyaki tofu with a hit of spiced pickles.
Hipsters flock to this quirky eatery for its Asian-inspired bites and great bubbly options. Their slider-style pork belly steamed buns (R84) are highly recommended, with generous slabs of pork slathered in a homemade sticky barbecue sauce, refreshing cucumber and a sprinkling of sesame seeds for crunch. Alternatively, try their steamed buns filled with grilled prawns with a zingy coriander-and-lime sauce (R98).
Lucky Bao (Hout Bay)
As you might guess from its name, this funky Asian spot (the brainchild of Cheyne Morrisby of Hout Bay favourite Cheyne’s) is dedicated to baos and yakitori. Enjoy options such as the belly bao with grilled pork belly, soy, maple syrup and sriracha (R45), or the sea bao with soft-shell crab and fragrant lemongrass (R55). The winner, however, is the bird bao. The delicate bun is bursting with sticky roasted duck complemented by crisp Fuji apple and a sesame jam.
South China Dim Sum Bar (City Bowl)
This Long Street gem is a date-night favourite, offering a concise but tasty menu of dim sum options. Their two bao choices include the char siu bao, a steamed fluffy wheat bun filled with slow-roasted pork in a sticky honey sauce with sweet onions, or the vegetarian dow sa bao, which is filled with a moreish red bean paste. R15 each.