BAO classic pork bao

This recipe for BAO's most iconic dish features tender soy braised pork, tangy mustard greens and peanut powder engulfed in the fluffiest gua bao. Here's how to make the restaurant's definitive dish at home

Makes 10

Preparation time 4 hours

Cooking time 15 minutes

When deciding whether to take the well-beaten path or the road less travelled, cult London Taiwanese restaurant BAO chose the latter. Founded in 2012 by husband and wife duo Shing Tat Chung and Erchen Chang, who met studying at Slade School of Fine Art, along with Chung's sister Wai Ting, it may have seemed like a bad idea to start a food-stall-turned-restaurant with a background in design and no formal chef training. But fast forward eleven years, BAO is one of London's most lauded establishments, a four-strong force of restaurants with the backing of restaurant group JKS (think Lyle's, Sabor and Gymkhana) and near permanent queues out its doors – proving quite the contrary.

In fact, the duo's artistic sensibilities have been a crucial asset to the success of BAO. Its strong and eclectic visual identity sets it apart from its peers in a fiercely competitive market where London restaurants must strive to get noticed. Take, for example, the iconic BAO 'lonely man' logo designed by Erchen – a graphic that has become instantly recognisable to Londoners. Or their proclivity for presenting food with a food stylist's vision, making each plate look as good as it tastes. Even each restaurant has a distinct aesthetic shaped by its purpose – with the paired-back, food-focused interiors of the Soho branch to cater for a fast, constant rotation of diners, compared to the KTV room, highball machine-equipped Borough restaurant reminiscent of Japan's late-night grill culture.

That said, to place BAO's popularity exclusively on its branding and aesthetic would be doing it a disservice – because the food has an equal part to play. All three have close ties to food – the Chung siblings through their family's Cantonese restaurant in Nottingham and Erchen through her childhood growing up surrounded by a love of eating and cooking. This, combined with their food-fuelled travels around Taiwan through Taipei and Yilan in the north, and Kaohsiung, Tainan and Pingtung in the south, have ensured the food at BAO is thoughtful, soulful and downright delicious. And don't just take out word for it – BAO's Soho outpost has been awarded a Michelin Bib Gourmand for eight consecutive years since opening.

When deciding on an iconic dish from BAO to include in this series Icons, the decision was easy to make because there is one menu item that completely defines the restaurant – the bao. It features on the logo, the restaurant is named after it, and it embodies the purpose of BAO in bringing the famous guo bao of Taiwan to the streets of London.

The menu at BAO is designed to be shared dim sum style, so this interpretation of gua bao is much smaller than one you see in Taiwan to make room for other delights on the menu like the pig blood cake, mapo aubergine, trotter nuggets and Horlick buns.

This pork bao is perfectly formed, with a clean 1cm gap between the edge of the bun and the edge of the meat. It is filled with a twelve-hour braised pork that yields no resistance and melts in your mouth with the cloud like bao, the flavours of the ferments and peanut powder lingering on your tongue. In this recipe, the pork is braised for three hours at a higher temperature, but it still produces a great braise.

The advice from the masters at BAO is not to skip the fermented mustard greens – these are a crucial component of the dish, and you'll need to prepare them at least two weeks in advance. If you don't have the time or desire to ferment your own, you can buy them from Asian supermarkets in vacuum-packed bags.


For the soy-braised pork belly

  • 1 kg pork belly, cut into 5 cm cubes
  • 50 ml light soy sauce
  • 40 ml dark soy sauce
  • 60 ml Shaoxing rice wine
  • 20 g spring onion
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 20 g fresh ginger, peeled, sliced and crushed
  • 1 star anise
  • 20 g rock sugar
  • pinch of garlic powder
  • 4 dried red chillies
  • 6 g cinnamon bark

For the fried mustard greens:

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1⁄2 tsp doubanjiang
  • 100 g drained Fermented Mustard Greens (recipe in the BAO cookbook, or this can be purchased in Asian supermarkets) chopped
  • A few drops of rice vinegar

To serve:

  • 10–12 Gua bao (recipe below, or can be purchased from Asian supermarkets)
  • 1 small bunch coriander, chopped
  • 90 g peanut powder
  • Soy-braised pork belly

Gua bao (if you choose to make them from scratch)

For the tangzhong:

  • 100 g plain flour
  • 500 ml cold filtered water

For the bao dough:

  • 100 g tangzhong (see above)
  • 420 g plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • 90 g caster sugar
  • 40 g milk powder
  • 2.5 g fast-action dried yeast
  • 5 g baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 80 ml milk, at room temperature
  • 80 ml water, at room temperature
  • 10 ml vegetable oil, plus extra for brushing


Soy braised pork belly:

  1. Bring a large saucepan of water to the boil. Add the pork cubes and blanch for 2–3 minutes to get rid of any impurities. Drain, then place in a flameproof clay pot or large saucepan.
  2. Add the remaining ingredients to the pot or pan and pour over enough water to just cover the ingredients. Bring to the boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer gently for 3 hours. There should just be small bubbles on the surface of the liquid. Halfway through cooking, flip the pork cubes to ensure they are evenly cooked.
  3. Transfer the pork to a plate and leave to cool. Strain the braising liquid, then bring to the boil and cook until it is a light, sticky consistency, reducing it by about half. When the pork has cooled slightly, chop it into cubes of about 1 cm. Put the cubes into the reduced sauce, give it a good stir and remove from the heat.
  4. Warm the pork with the sauce over a medium heat for about 10 minutes before serving.

Fried mustard greens

  1. Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the doubanjiang and, when the oil starts to turn red, add the fermented mustard greens. Stir-fry for 5 minutes until super fragrant and wilted. Season the greens with a few drops of the vinegar.

Peanut powder

  1. Pulse roast peanuts in small batches to make powder and combine well with the sugar.

To assemble

  1. While the pork is reheating and the greens are cooking, steam the gua bao following the directions in step 6 of the gua bao recipe below*.
  2. Open a bao and line the bottom with 45 g of the piping-hot, glistening pork, then top with 1 teaspoon of the fried mustard greens. Finish with 1 teaspoon of the chopped coriander and 1 tablespoon of the golden, sweet peanut powder. Repeat with the remaining bao and filling.
  3. Hold a bao lovingly in your hand. Open your mouth fully, like the bao, and eat from the side.

Gua Bao (if you choose to make from scratch):


  1. Put the flour into a small saucepan, pour in the cold water a little at a time, and mix in the flour until smooth. Slowly warm over a low heat until it becomes gluey and you can draw a line on the surface. Remove from the heat, cover tightly with cling film so that the film touches the surface of the tangzhong and leave to cool. The tangzhong can be stored in the fridge, covered, for up to 3 days.

Bao dough

  1. Put 100 g of the tangzhong and all the dry ingredients into the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook. Start mixing on a low setting and then slowly add the milk and water. Finally, add the oil and continue mixing until the dough is smooth. Cover with a damp cloth or cling film and leave to prove somewhere warm for 2–3 hours depending on the temperature, until doubled in size.
  2. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for 5 minutes – it will gradually become more elastic and the surface of the dough will become smooth.
  3. Divide the dough into 40g pieces. Give each a strong knead, then roll into smooth balls. Cover with baking paper to prevent them drying out while you roll the rest.
  4. Flatten one of the dough balls with the palm of your hand, then using a rolling pin, roll it into an oval shape 8 cm long. Brush the top with oil, then, with a short edge facing you, place a chopstick horizontally across the middle and fold the oval in half over the chopstick. Remove the chopstick and repeat with the remaining dough balls.
  5. Place each bao on a square of baking paper a little bigger than the size of the bao, then transfer to a large tray. Cover with a sheet of baking paper and leave to prove somewhere warm for 15–20 minutes until the bao have doubled in height. They should look relaxed, puffed up and the surface should no longer be damp. Imagine touching a smooth baby’s skin. (Alternatively, you can do this final prove directly inside the bamboo steamers.)
  6. *When the bao are ready, carefully transfer them, on their squares of paper, to a prepared bamboo steamer (see below). Cover and steam over a medium- high heat for 15 minutes until they look soft and podgy, not firm, and their surface glistens with a satin sheen. If you feel any resistant patches in the centre that don’t bounce back, keep steaming.
  7. Remove from the steamer and either eat straight away or leave to rest at room temperature until the steam has fully evaporated and the bao are completely cool. If your steamer doesn’t fit all the bao, shape them for the second prove only after you have put the first batch in to steam. Over proved dough results in over expansion and will look flat and bubbly. The bao can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to 5 days or they can be frozen for up to 1 month.
  8. If you are reheating cooked bao, add them to the prepared steamer (see below), cover and steam over a high heat for about 10 minutes until they bounce back nicely when pressed with a finger. If you feel any resistant patches in the centre that don’t bounce back, keep steaming. If steaming from frozen, it’s the same process but add another 2–3 minutes in the steamer.

How to prepare a steamer

  1. Use a deep saucepan that fits your bamboo steamer snugly.
  2. If you are steaming fresh dough, there is no need to line the steamer basket – you need only use the squares of baking paper that the bao are on. If you are reheating bao, use muslin or a sheet of baking paper to line the basket.
  3. Fill the pan with about 5 cm of water, place the empty steamer on top and bring to the boil. This will warm the steamer so that when you place your bao inside, it will start steaming straight away.

The BAO cookbook is available to buy here