Taiwanese gua bao. A freshly steamed mantou bun sliced in half, stuffed with slices of thick, succulent pieces of braised pork belly, garnished with cilantro, and finished with a generous sprinkling of sugar and peanut powder. Mmmmm.
Gua bao (割包), alongside of milk tea, hot pot and popcorn chicken is a kind of food that can truly be representative of what Taiwanese cuisine is like. Found on the side of street sold by food vendors and making its way onto the menus of luxuriously lavish restaurants and hotels, Gua bao is served a myriad of ways: with fish, mustard greens, Taiwanese red sugar, whole peanuts, fried chicken, cucumbers, and even truffles.
Traditionally though, Gua bao is served with thick pork belly slices, cilantro, mustard greens and peanut powder. It’s been lovingly named by Taiwanese people as “tiger bites pig” 虎咬豬 because the freshly steamed mantou buns, when cut, resembles a tiger’s mouth. Add in pieces of sliced pork belly and you get exactly what the nickname claims, a tiger biting a pig.
Served hot with meat juices and cilantro shavings dripping on the side of the bun, Gua baos can truly be addicting. I personally like the traditional style best – nothing beats the texture of tender succulent pieces of soy sauce braised pork belly. The fat from the pork belly, after being simmered for hours adds such unimaginable depth to the sauce that it transcends common sense. The Gua bao as a whole doesn’t feel greasy either; the tang from the pickled mustard greens, the unmistakable peppery spiciness from the cilantro and crumbled peanut powder offsets the grease from the pork belly. Served with a few sprinklings of sugar on top, it’s a perfect balance between sweet and savory.
I’m fond of Gua bao and while I don’t eat it as often as I would given that it is still potentially heart-attack-inducing, I recommend everyone to try it at least once. It’s a great snack to give you a taste of what Taiwanese cuisine is like at a relatively low cost of 40-70NT depending on location and ingredients used. If you’ve never had Gua bao before, give it a try and let me know how you like it. I’d love to hear about your experiences.
Thanks for reading, duuck out.