Book review: BAO

By Stefan Chomka

- Last updated on GMT

Book review: BAO

Related tags BAO JKS Restaurants Casual dining Taiwanese cuisine Cookbook

Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung, and Wai Ting Chung Taiwanese cookbook is a celebration of sole dining.

Fans of Taiwanese restaurant group BAO will no doubt be familiar with its recognisable logo of a man tucking into a bao bun, although not all would have given it further consideration. Born from co-founder Erchen Chang’s artwork Rules to be a Lonely Man, the image - and the different drawings of the man that accompany each other the group’s subsequent restaurants - is not just a visual nicety but an embodiment of the trio’s ethos with their restaurant. The purpose of BAO, they say in the early pages of their debut cookbook, was not just to fill empty stomachs but to inspire lonely mouths with perfect moments - the lonely man being anyone who resonates the feeling of solitude. BAO was created specifically for the single diner - an ethos that holds strong to this day.

This sets the tone for BAO​ the cookbook, which is described as also being a ‘declaration of our intentions, what’s important to us, and an explanation of why and how we do the things we do’ and which turns out to be much more than a mere dive into its dishes - the first recipe does not appear until page 51, kicking off with the classic pork bao. Before readers get to this they are given a history lesson from first to third generations of the owners, hear about the birth of the original Soho restaurant (a disastrous Christmas market at which they sold just 15 baos being the catalyst for a bricks and mortar site) and discover the intrinsic relationship between the restaurant’s food, art and design.

When it comes to the recipes, the book is divided into BAO’s various concepts, with chapters dedicated to the original BAO in Soho; its now closed Fitrovia restaurant; its grill house in Borough; the King’s Cross Taiwanese cafe; and Shoreditch-based noodle shop. It is generous in its selection of recipes, with 100 dishes that represent the BAO culinary universe. These include classics such as pig’s blood cake with soy-cured egg; trotter nuggets with burnt chilli sauce; and rump cap with aged white soy; to more recent additions such as the beef and Taipei butter rice; shortrib pancake with bone marrow; and cull yaw dumplings. No BAO cookbook would be complete without a section dedicated to the eponymous dish, with 14 covered in total, with the curry cheese, prawn shia song; chicken nugget; breakfast sausage; and fried Horlicks ice cream all featured.

The drinks offer at BAO has always had an equal footing to the food and it is in the drinks section of the book that you get the feeling that the trio are giving away their best-kept secrets. Foams underpin many of the creative drinks on the menu - Yakult, aloe and milk varieties in particular - and their recipes feature alongside those for peanut milk, the Melon Floatini, the Sweet Potato Sour, Yakult Float, and Milk Foam Tea.

Created in 2013 as a market stall and launched as a restaurant in 2015, BAO has grown in size and scope in the intervening decade. As a consequence, the trio's debut cookbook, which is published on 2 March, has much broader scope than its three letter word name might suggest.

Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung, and Wai Ting Chung
Number of pages: 240
Must try dish: Breakfast sausage bao
Publisher and price: Phaidon, £29.95

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