Wonderbao - Reliving tastes of Japan with Chinese foods

22 July 2014

When I was in Japan, a steamed bun (called a man, rhymes with fun) with chocolate milk was my regular lunch when doing touristy things on my own. It was cheap and tasty. What more could I want? Oh yes, in retrospect, it would have been good if it had been vegan.

When I found out that there was a steamed bun shop in Melbourne with vegan options, I knew I had to try them, even if they make the mistake of calling them by the Chinese name of bao rather than the clearly superior Japanese term man.

Wonderbao - veggie lunch pack

Even though I wasn't actually that hungry, a quick look at the menu indicated that I had to order the veggie lunch pack - one of each of the three vegan options. How else was I to decide? These were the choi bao (shiitake mushrooms, tofu and veggies), the taro bao (taro, duh), and the fried silky tofu gua bao (with pickled mustard, coriander, sweet soy sauce and crushed peanuts). They also sell freshly made organic soy milk, hot or cold. Although I don't usually drink soy milk straight, I decided to be adventurous, and ordered a hot one.

Wonderbao - veggie lunch pack

I started with the fried silky tofu gua bao, the one that looks like a steamed bun taco. It was amazing, heaven for $4.20. I felt like I was back in Japan about to go and take photos of a temple, except that instead I was sitting looking out on a kinda cool old graffitied laneway, and the food was an order of magnitude better than any of nikuman (meat filled bun), kareman (curried meat filled bun) or pizzaman (meat and cheese filled bun) I ever bought from a Japanese kombini (convenience store). It beat the steamed buns I had from more authentic vendors too.

The choi bao was tasty enough but unremarkable, more in line with the quality I generally enjoyed in Japan, though I think I would have enjoyed it more if I'd eaten it first. The taro bao, a sweet bun that I fortunately managed to leave till last by accident, was not really my thing. I found the texture a bit unpleasant, probably because it reminded me of sweet red bean paste which I also don't like.

Wonderbao - hot soymilk

As for the soy milk, as I said before, I don't normally drink any non-dairy milks straight. I didn't used to enjoy dairy milk straight either. However, this stuff was fantastic, a very pleasant flavour in its own right, no chocolate powder required. I asked if they sell it to take home, but unfortunately, they only sell it by the cup in store. I think I might have to try making my own soy milk, because this was in an entirely different league to the stuff that comes in cartons at the supermarket.

Even though I wasn't thrilled with every item I tried, I'm going to rate Wonderbao 9/10, because for the gua bao and soymilk, the price to taste sensation ratio is phenomenal. Next time, I'll just order two gua baos and a soymilk. Mmmmmm.

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