Gua Bao, also known as pork belly bao buns, is a popular Taiwanese street food that has spread to neighboring countries such as Singapore and Malaysia. It is a warm fluffy lotus leaf bun (lotus leaf refers to the shape) that is filled with sticky and tender cuts of braised pork belly with a myriad of toppings. At its simplest, the juicy pork belly and bao is a wonderful combination, but with the addition of toppings, it is a dish that everyone has to try.
And this is completely out of my comfort zone. Because this is my attempt to recreate this popular street food. And the one thing I absolutely do not want to do is mess it up. It’s not like I haven’t recreated anything else before. It’s just that I am simply a stranger to a world of culturally diverse foods. Some people may feel overwhelmed or even distant, but there are those who are curious. Like me, I want to make gua bao. I want to learn every single detail about it, because I want to know how this food make others happy.
At the core of this dish is the flavorful and sticky braised pork. The choice of cut for the pork is the belly. If you managed to find a good balance of a fatty content and protein, then you will get just the right amount of tender and juicy meat followed up by soft and caramelized fat. To achieve that soft and chewy texture without overdoing it, you will have to boil at medium heat and add water to prevent it from burning or softening to quickly.
For the seasoning, dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, cooking wine and rock sugar was used. Dark soy sauce is primarily used for coloring, but it still the primary source for salting the dish. In place of dark soy sauce, you can use regular soy sauce, but be careful of putting to much as there is much more salt in regular soy sauce. Oyster sauce adds a balance of sweet and salt that rounds out the taste profile. Rock sugar is to contrast the saltiness brought by the dark soy sauce. Cooking wine is added to break down the fats that is rendered from the pork belly.
Aroma is added primarily to affect the aroma of the dish. I went with the classic ginger, green onion, ginger, and garlic. These are the basic ingredients for an aromatic smell, but I have added a couple ingredients that just makes this much better. I added bay leaves, a cinnamon stick, lemon grass, and star anises. This just add so much more dimension to the pork belly.
I haven’t had time to make the buns myself, but store bought buns are much easier to prepare. I do plan to make some by hand, but for the time being, this will do. For the filling, I added one slice of the sticky and tender and juicy pork belly with spicy mayo. Then I topped it off with pickled carrots and radish and crushed peanuts and cilantro. The chili is optional, but it sure does contrast the sweetness from the spicy mayo and pork belly.
Gua Bao - Pork Belly Bao
- 1.5 lb pork belly
- 1 whole onion slices
- 4 of garlic cloves
- 3 green onion stalks
- Half a peeled ginger stalk
- 1 lemon grass stalk base
- 1 tbsp of cooking oil
- 2 tbsp of dark soy sauce
- 1 tbsp of Shaoxing Cooking Wine
- 1/2 tbsp of oyster sauce
- 2 cups of water or more
- Half a cinnamon stick
- 2 star anise
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 tbsp rock sugar
- Store bough steamed lotus leaf buns/bao
- crushed nuts
- spicy mayo
- pickled carrots and radish
- First, prepare all the ingredients. Cut the pork belly strip into half-inch thick slices. Then cut the onion into slices and crush the garlic. Next, cut the green onion stalk in thirds and cut the peeled ginger into slices. Crush the bottom base of the lemongrass.
- Then. add oil to a cooking pan. Cook the pork belly for 3 minutes on each side or until golden brown. Set it aside afterwards.
- Reserving the excess oil, sauté the onions and garlic for 2-3 mins on high heat or until brown and translucent.
- Add the pork belly back and start adding the soy sauce, shaoxing cooking wine, oyster sauce, water, green onion, ginger, cinnamon stick, star anise, lemongrass, bay leaves, and rock sugar.
- Let it cook on medium heat for 3-4 hours or until the pork is sticky and tender.
- Serve the braised pork belly in between lotus leaf bun and top it off with your own filling. I served it with spicy mayo, pickled carrots/radish, cilantro, crushed peanuts, and chopped red chili.
|1. Once it is cooking 3-4 hours, add additional water to prevent the pork from burning from the bottom. |
2. As an alternative, you can use a pressure cooker to speed up the process to 1-2 hours on high temp/pressure at slow cook.
3. There are other methods to prepare this dish such a marinated all the sliced pork overnight with all the ingredients except the water. Cook the pork on hot oil and then add the water once it is golden brown.