The pale, fluffy, pork-stuffed buns known as gua bao are popping up all over the shop: at hole-in-the-wall restaurants, on fancy catering menus and even on wheels, courtesy of hipster food trucks. If you haven’t tried them before, imagine a kind of cross between a burger and a taco—except white, and delightfully spongy.
Gua bao got its start as a Taiwanese street food, traditionally filled with braised pork belly, pickles, crushed peanuts and coriander. David Chang, the Korean-American culinary enfant terrible who founded the Momofuku restaurant empire, is the individual we can credit—or blame—for bringing gua bao to its current global darling-of-the-moment status. Chang’s take has the inside of the bun slathered in hoisin sauce, then stuffed with lightly pickled cucumber, slices of slow-cooked pork belly, some finely sliced spring onion and an optional slick of Sriracha chilli sauce. But there’s no need to stop there.
It might be heresy to say so, but my favourite filling is not so much about the cooking as the shopping. I live quite a few country miles away from any Asian shopping precinct but when I’m driving to a part of the city where glistening, red-lacquered ducks hang in barbecue-shop windows, I take a cooler to fill with a stash of takeaway duck—and, while I’m at it, some crisp-skinned roast pork belly or pink-hued barbecued pork fillet.
You can ask for a half or whole duck: it will be chopped before your eyes, bones and all, and packed into a plastic container. Provided the chopped duck is chilled down as soon as you get it into your cooler it will be fine to transport and keep in the fridge for a day or so; or you can store it in the freezer.
When you’re gearing up to fill your buns, pull the meat from the bones (there will likely be some fat, but that’s how farmed ducks are—if it troubles you, cut it away) and gently reheat it on a tray in a 100C oven, along with its anise-scented skin. From there it’s a cinch to stuff the duck meat into its spongy wrapping along with cucumber, and plenty of hoisin: a street-food twist on Peking duck.
If you live even further than I do from the nearest Asian barbecue shop, a supermarket pre-cooked “Peking” duck breast will slice up nicely to do the trick.
Check our list on this page for more easy-to-prep fillings that will further boost your buns, so to speak.