Gua Bao – pork belly stuffed in a steamed bun – is becoming a global phenomenon, even available on the street in London and NYC. In Taiwan, Lan Jia Gua stakes the “Taipei’s best Gua Bao” claim, with queues out the door to prove it. But maybe there is another contender…
My girlfriend Huong read about Song Shan Gua Bao (松山割包) in another blog and was allured by the promise of excellent grub minus the queues. The restaurant, on a corner of Songshan Road near the wholesale clothing market, is simple and plain.
The owner stands out front making the buns with her husband assistant. It’s a solid way of catching the attention of passers by; it looks delicious. Steam rising from traditional wooden caskets, and three containers of amazing-looking ingredients that assumedly will each make their way into the Bao.
The lady, smiles aplenty, makes each one by hand, grabbing a bao from the steamer, slicing it open and filling it with pork belly, pickled mustard greens, and some ground peanuts, before topping it off with fresh coriander. It’s a familiar recipe and a well-trodden path for gua bao lovers, but this one does look rather tasty.
The restaurant is small – maybe 8 tables – but is half-full of locals at 3pm. A good sign.
The menu is in Chinese with no English option. In addition to the obvious star attraction, we noticed someone eating what looked like a pork intestine soup, which we henceforth ordered using the international restaurant metaphor method (finger jabbing).
The Bao itself is a thing of beauty: a mountain of juicy pulled pork, sandwiched in a soft, warm bao (Chinese steamed bun) with a thick layer of green pickled veg (mustard greens, but they don’t taste mustardy at all), sprinkled with peanuts and fresh coriander leaves. It’s hard to get a full bite while maintaining any degree of elegance.
The taste is quite incredible. The pork is tender and quite moist (maybe the tiny weeniest bit dry). The pickled vegetables add a subtle sweetness and a touch of moisture, the peanuts a salty crunch, and the coriander a lovely fragrant finish. What a mouthful of flavours.
The pork soup doesn’t look like much. The soup is a light pork broth, a little salty but not too much, but the flavour of the pork intestine itself is fantastic. Strong, rich and with a slight rubberiness (but remarkably tender for intestine) and not with an overwhelming offal flavour at all.
In an area known for its cheap wholesale clothes, this unassuming outfit are serving something worthy of far more acclaim in my book. Does it compare to Lan Jia? Is this Taipei’s best gua bao? It’s hard to pick my favourite. I’d probably say Lan Jia inches it. But the good thing is that at Songshan you can have a seat and not queue up at all. If you’re in the area, make a stop, and if you’re not, it’s worth making a trip.
Address: 179 Songshan Road, Xinyi – https://goo.gl/maps/J4jHTRzhYcc1DaxQ8
Nearest MRT: Songshan (green line) or Houshanpi (blue line)p
Price: $5 USD each (one gua bao each and one pork soup to share)
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