I was on my way home from one of my favorite Thai restaurants in Tainan, Taiwan when I stumbled across… you might’ve guessed it (or probably not), a food cart called 誠仔虎咬豬 or “tiger bites pig” that specializes in Gua bao.
Gua Bao is a traditional Taiwanese snack that consists of freshly steamed mantou stuffed with juicy thick slices of soy braised pork belly, garnished with cilantro, mustard greens and sprinkles of peanut powder and sugar. It’s sweet, savory, umami – all in one. A Gua bao made right is absolutely incredible; the flavors are intensely complex and rich, and the sour acidity of the mustard green balances the mouthfeel between the greasiness of the pork belly and the fresh peppery spiciness of the cilantro. It’s a snack that once eaten will leave you wanting for more.
I’m a fan of Gua bao (as if you couldn’t tell already). Whenever there’s an opportunity to eat one, I never hesitate. This food cart is exactly that case.
The cart illuminated by cool fluorescent lighting created a striking contrast against the warm vivid glow of the lantern hanging on the side. The cart’s decor – simple but unique, featuring a wooden Japanese style awning, with the cart’s logo 誠仔虎咬豬 (“tiger bites pig”) displayed prominently up top. Unable to take my eyes off of the basket of piping hot mantou buns in the steamer basket, I knew I had to try it that very night otherwise I’d be haunted for weeks after.
I ordered two Gua baos, one with the traditional pork belly and the other being spicy chicken. Each Gua bao was made fresh-to-order: a hot mantou taken out of the steamer basket before stuffed with generous slices of marbled pork belly, mustard greens, peanut powder and a light sprinkle of cilantro.
At this point, being unable to hold back any longer, I devoured both Gua bao buns in just matter of minutes. The taste was… unfortunately, mediocre at best. The mantou was piping hot, a plus, but the meat dry and overly sweet. At its essence, a good Gua bao really only consists of two things: the mantou bun itself, and the meat so if either the bun or the meat isn’t to standards, the end product will be mediocre at best.
To be honest, I was expecting more from the food cart given that they actually specialize in Gua baos but I guess I should’ve held some reservations given that the cart was located right next to the touristy Shennong Street. Most tourist places are generally overhyped in Tainan, Taiwan and this place is no exception. I probably wouldn’t come here again and most likely wouldn’t recommend others to come especially, if it’s their first time eating Gua bao so as to not give them the wrong impression of what Taiwanese cuisine is really like.
It’s a bit unfortunate but at least on a good note, there are still plenty of other amazing Gua bao places all around Taiwan, one of them being Lan Jia in Taipei, Taiwan.
Thanks for reading. Till next time, duuck out.