Taiwan: Gua Bao (aka Taiwanese Pork Belly Bun, Taiwanese Burger)

Restaurant: Chou Ma Ma’s Kitchen
City: Newark, CA

I had dinner with the family and a family friend at a Taiwanese restaurant near home. This place has several appetizers that are typically sold as street food in Taiwan.

We had a few dishes I’d never had before, thanks to the family friend from Hong Kong who is more knowledgeable about Taiwanese food than my parents are!

Another dish we had was the Taiwanese pork belly bun, aka Taiwanese burger.

gua bao - 1gua bao - 2

Serious Eats describes gua bao the best:

True Taiwanese pork belly buns have five defining components: the fluffy steamed bun, tender braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, fresh cilantro, and powdered peanuts. All combined, it’s a messy, colorful, glorious snack of salty, sweet, pungent, and fresh flavors, with multiple textures to boot.

More in-depth info from Wall Street Journal:

Consider the Taiwanese gua bao: pork belly, preserved mustard greens, peanuts crushed with sugar and a few sprigs of cilantro stuffed into a fluffy steamed bun. The gua bao is sweet, sour and salty, irresistibly sloppy and richly meaty, but sized to satisfy, not overwhelm. Swaddled in paper or plastic, it fits snugly in the palm — an ideal on-the-go nosh and a near-perfect street food.

Yet despite its merits, the gua bao is unknown in too many quarters. Like Taipei, a street-food hub that’s often overlooked in favor of other Asian cities like Singapore and Bangkok, it languishes in the shadow of Taiwan’s more famous xiao long bao (soup dumplings) and niu rou mian (beef noodles).

It shouldn’t be so. After all, the Taiwanese specialty is delicious enough to have inspired numerous variations abroad.

But the gua bao is Taiwanese through and through. Its filling of soy-sauce-stewed pork, reminiscent of Hokkien dish hong bak, and preserved mustard — a staple in China south of the Yangtze River — speak of the island’s large Hokkien and Hakka populations. Its garnish, a thick dusting of peanuts crushed with sugar, is made with two of Taiwan’s most historically important crops. More than just an earthly delight, gua bao is offered during the final annual worship of the Earth God, Taiwan’s most ubiquitous deity. At end-of-the-year celebrations employers give the clamshell-shaped specialty, which with its overflowing filling recalls a purse stuffed with money, to staff. Gua bao is so rooted in Taiwanese culture it even has a nickname: hu yao zhu, or Tiger Bites Pig.

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