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Gourmet Pao: Experimenting with different fillings

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A fast food favorite among Filipinos. photographs by Margaux Salcedo


Wow, Siopao!

By Margaux Salcedo
Philippine Daily Inquirer
First Posted 17:42:00 08/07/2010

Filed Under: Food, Restaurants & catering, Travel & Commuting

We can only be grateful to the Chinese who brought this wonderful dumpling to this part of Asia

A RENOWNED surgical oncologist explains to his female patients in the most casual manner after a breast exam, ?The breast is like a siopao ... ? Then proceeds to translate his food analogy to biological reasoning.

Immediately after hearing this, my imagination ran amok with a visual of Superman perplexed at seeing siopao underneath Lois Lane?s shirt through his x-ray vision and trying to determine whether it was asado or bola-bola underneath.

Incidentally, St. Luke?s Hospital in Quezon City has one of the more respectable siopaos in the metro. Word is that the rich Chinese of the QC-San Juan area go as far as sending their drivers to the hospital canteen so they can have their siopao fix. But this siopao is a jumbo pao so I doubt that the renowned oncologist got his inspiration for his analogy at the St. Luke?s canteen. Maybe the idea came to him after a takeout at Chowking!

The siopao, a Filipino fast food favorite, may be counted among ?Filipinized? Chinese dishes, like pancit. A quick search on the Internet shows that nowhere else in the world are these buns also called siopao. The Chinese (apparently) call them baozi; the Thai call them salapao; Hawaiians call them char siu bao; the Vietnamese call them banh bao. But they all mean the same thing: a filled bun. The difference seems to be in the filling. The Hawaiians? char siu bao offers barbecued pork inside, similar to our asado siopao, while the Vietamese version offers ground pork, like our bola-bola siopao. The ?Filipinization? is obvious with the asado filling, pork asado being a viand of Spanish influence derived from the Spanish word ?asado? meaning ?roasted,? although pork asado is a favorite at Filipino-Chinese restaurants.

There is not much literature on our siopao. Filipino cookbooks, in general, don?t include siopao recipes (although siomai has found its way in somehow). But ask any Filipino and they can tell you where his or her favorite siopao place is.

Unfortunately, old favorites like Kowloon House have lost their touch. You can tell when a restaurant or chain does not really care much for the siopao when the bola-bola is just that ? balled ground pork, period. It?s for people who swallow more than they chew. Restos that care about their siopao take the effort to make sure that bola-bola is as fulfilling as it is filling. This is the case at the following siopao domains: Wan Kee in Chinatown, the siopao go-to for the Chinese in the know; Emerald Garden for those who appreciate siopao but not obsessive enough to go to Binondo, and Roberto?s in Iloilo for the travelers (or, obviously, the Ilonggos).

At these places you can expect your bola-bola siopao to have, alongside the ground pork, an egg or a salted duck egg, a Chinese sausage and/or chorizo, and for additional flavor and texture, kuchay or Chinese chives, scallions, and water chestnuts. If these are not all in your siopao, you are falling mighty short of a good siopao experience!

For asado siopao, two places stand out. For those who prefer strong flavors, the best asado siopao is at Su Zhou in San Juan. The sweet savory taste of the pork is outstanding, way beyond the quality of asado siopaos served elsewhere. You may order this in a jumbo or mini size.

For those who prefer their filling to be less sweet, the siopao at St. Luke?s hospital canteen, true to its reputation by word of mouth, is very good. It is huge and does not scrimp on the filling. All other asado siopaos cannot compare ? whether it be the reddish one in Chinatown favorites such a Wan Kee, President?s, the mall resto Superbowl, the darker fillings at Emerald?s or even at Chow King.

Another great siopao experience is the combination siopao at Su Zhou called Taipao that includes pork, chicken, mushrooms, egg and a piece of bola-bola. This is a must-experience for every siopao lover! Aside from the sheer size of it, I think it?s the addition of the mushrooms that makes it so outstanding that even the combination siopaos in Chinatown will stand in deference to this.

Also making waves recently is a merchant called Gourmet Pao, which experiments with fillings other than the usual asado and bola-bola. For example, they have a tuna siopao called Tuna Dekada, which has spicy tuna and cheese as its filling. The Sosy-sig is a siopao with pork sisig inside. Bob?s Queso is a siopao take on a ham and cheese sandwich. Do not order this if you are expecting a siopao you are familiar with. Clearly, their idea is to offer something different. While some flavors already taste like sandwiches more than siopao, the Pesto Veggie, with its zucchini and eggplant filling, succeeds as a great siopao alternative for the vegetarian. Best of all, you can have it in a wheat bun too!

After this siopao trip, I conclude only one thing: that we can only be grateful to the Chinese who brought this wonderful dumpling to this part of Asia. Whoever created this recipe is truly a genius and has left a great legacy to the world! ?

Best Siopao Places:

Wan Kee Bakery Inc. 828 Benavides St., (off Salazar) Binondo, Manila. Best bola-bola siopao. Note: the new batches come after 1 p.m.; best to make your purchase then.

Su Zhou Dimsum. Mabini cor. Araullo Streets, San Juan. 7216105. Best asado siopao, taipao.

Gourmet Pao. For orders, call landline 2111099 mobile 0917-5377726.

Emerald Garden. 1170 Roxas Boulevard, Ermita, Manila. 5238510, 5238515.

Roberto?s Restaurant. 61 JM Basa St., Iloilo City. 335 0484, 337 1595. Go for the Queen Pao.

Copyright 2015 Philippine Daily Inquirer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.




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