Some think reveling in spicy Tibetan beef tripe and seeking out live Korean octopus is just plain nuts, but I never expected to be profiled for my eating habits. It happened last week at Baohaus, the new gua bao spot on the Lower East Side, just down the street from Economy Candy. "You guys are eaters, I can tell," Eddie Huang, a third generation maker of the steamed Taiwanese buns, told my friend and I as we finished up a meal.
"I'm like the NYPD—I profile people to ask whether they want lean or fatty meat. You can tell who's more of a third-world street food eater and understands where it's at. If they're wearing skinny jeans, you ask if they want lean pork."
Huang's steamed buns are so popular he can't make them fast enough. "I swear we will not run out again tomorrow," a recent Twitter post reads. I've had many pork belly gua bao, or Taiwanese burgers, in Flushing—but The Chairman Bao ($7.95 for two) is the Platonic ideal. The fluffy bun is packed with sumptuous, fat beribboned hunks of Niman Ranch pork that have been slow-cooked into a state of bliss. A crunchy and sharp-flavored trifecta of crushed peanut, cilantro, and pickled mustard greens mitigate the fat factor. There is one untraditional ingredient Huang adds to his mother's recipe. "I use cherry cola to tenderize it. I'm from the South. It gives it a little sweetness."
The Haus Bao ($8.95) overflows with red-cooked skirt steak. Huang had always wondered why Chinese people red-cook pork, but not beef, so he created a beefy take on the classic dish. The secret ingredient is moutai, or Chinese firewater, that's been cooked down giving it a sweet pineapple flavor. Even though BaoHaus has been open for just a few weeks, the Haus Bao has already achieved some fame. The dish will appear on Food Network's Ultimate Recipe Showdown in March. Being chosen to appear on the show is what inspired him to open the restaurant.
"I saw a lot of connections between Taiwanese food and Southern food," Huang says. No doubt that's why he offers peanuts ($3 for 12 oz., $4 for 16 oz.) boiled in salt and rice vinegar. "It's like country edamame for Southern people." Now that's a snack I can get behind.