The secret to amazing bao buns? Q&A with BAO London’s founder Erchen Chang

Erchen Chang co-founded Bao in 2013, along with Shing Tat Chung, and Wai Ting Chung. She spent her childhood in Taipei, before moving to the UK aged 14. While brother and sister Shing Tat and Wai Ting were born in Nottingham to parents from Hong Kong, who operated Cantonese restaurants in the city. The trio created the idea for BAO while travelling across Taiwan together, more than a decade ago.

Today, BAO London has a cult following, with long queues often seen at the restaurant doors.

BAO by Erchen Chang, Shing Tat Chung and Wai Ting Chung is published by Phaidon, £29.95 (Phaidon.com)

Photo Erchen Chang, credit: Carol Sachs

Find recipes for BAO's iconic bao bun here. Plus the Classic Pork Bao from the BAO restaurant menu. And the vegetarian Daikon BAO here.


What do you look for in really good bao buns? 

Obviously the BAO needs to be light, soft and fluffy. I prefer no chew, and to really compliment that is a filling that compliments that texture and allows the fluffiness to continue. There’s nothing worse than biting into something that then disturbs your flow of eating – like when you bite into a bacon sandwich and you accidentally pull the whole bacon out. 


How has growing up in Taipei influenced your tastes?

Growing up I mainly ate authentic Taiwanese Food, anything from my grandma’s cooking to the street food we would visit as school kids. So, when I moved to England to study, eating out was completely different to what I had experienced before and this has shaped the way I create food. Taking what I love from both worlds.


How do you connect food and art, and why is it important do you think?

We actually graduated from art school in 2012, which had drilled into us that mentality of quick-fire idea materialisation and solutions in a highly pressurised and competitive system. When we graduated, the process of creating BAO from idea to reality wasn’t all that different to what we’d already been doing, from the micro level of design to the macro level of ideation. It's just that now we were combining two passions - food and design. So, for us that interconnectivity between food and art is what we set out to do, we wanted BAO not to be just a place to eat but a place where we could use Art and Design to bring people together. 


The ‘Lonely Man’ is Bao’s motif, can you talk us through its origin and significance?

The lonely man first came from my artwork, Rules to be a Lonely Man in 2012 – a performative installation with 5 lonely men on a riverbed gazing and finding their perfect moment. This evolved to what you know as the lonely man in the BAO logo. Many ask ‘why is he sad?’ - he’s not, he’s quietly enjoying a perfect moment in his BAO. We’re here to inspire everyone’s inner lonely man. Where in 2012, it was the inspiration of the riverbed scene, in BAO it is our restaurants, from the food we serve to the interiors, it is how we translate Taiwanese culture into these stories and the experiences for our guests.


What do you attribute to Bao’s huge popularity? 

Right time, right place. Street food was taking off, Taiwanese food wasn’t really explored in the capital – so our flavours were new and original. And also integrity, we all came from creative backgrounds into food using food as a language to express our creativity.


Which ingredients do you always want to hand?

Short Grain Rice

Aged Soy

Garlic

Mi Chiu (rice wine)

Rice Vinegar

Anchovies


How do you find fresh inspiration for new recipe ideas? 

Travel – really the only time that you can step back from the day to day. Zoom out and immerse into something else starts to get your brain ticking and that is where I find fresh inspiration.


Which recipe from the book would you like everyone to try?

Chilli Chicken. I love eating this at home because it hits the spot, and everyone always loves grilled or roasted chicken and Braised pork, because it’s the main dish to which BAO started and it can be eaten not just in a BAO but over rice or even noodles.

 

What’s the best thing you’ve eaten recently? 

I was in Tokyo just only a month ago – and the experience of having cheap but really amazing quality sushi, made in front of you, in a standing bar was great!


What are you really looking forward to right now? 

Stir fried greens with a bowl of steaming hot rice and a side of clear broth to come home to. And a beer served in a really thin glass to knock it to the next level.

Find recipes for BAO's iconic bao bun here. Plus the Classic Pork Bao from the BAO restaurant menu.

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