I Had Never Eaten a Bao Bun Before. Then I Did. Then I Wanted a Million More.
This week’s Eat of the Week is a little bit of a cheat of the week, because I ate it a few weeks ago, but I’ve been saving it for a rainy day, and as I write this, it is literally raining, so… Bao buns, Yo. From The Admiral in West Asheville. They are so fucking goooood.
If you don’t know what a bao bun is, don’t feel like a clueless rube, because I didn’t either, until my internationally traveling, super urbane, well-heeled GF, Dawn introduced me to them last year. According to The Wikileaks, a steamed bao bun, aka “a baozi, bau, humbow, nunu, bakpao, pow, pau, pao, or bausak is a type of steamed, filled, bun or bread-like item in various Chinese cuisines.” Good gawd, that’s a lotta different names! I like “nunu” and “bausak” the most.
I’m no expert, but it seems to me that bao buns come in two different styles: One that’s like a big, soft, puffy, folded over, taco-like, sandwich-esque dealio-bobber, and the other is like a pinched-off little sack of insanely hot stuffing, more like a dumpling than a taco or sandwich. A Google image search will show you both.
I am talking about the folded over kind here. Fuck that other kind, the little pinched-off bau-sacks. The ones that I’ve had in that category were more-or-less awful. Like, don’t even. BUT the other kind… the soft, puffy, sandwichy kind… gahhhh…. drooling right now just writing about them. Of course, it didn’t hurt that the very first steamed boa bun I ever ate was at a place called Momofuku in NYC, which is a very high-end, fancy-pants, momofukin’ joint, with some world class food. Ermergerd, So fucking gooooood! Yet, so far away.
Would we have to travel all the way back to NYC and fork over some beaucoup duckets for those Momofukus, or could we get decent, proper bao buns here at home?!?
Yes, as we we found out a good 16 months after our quest began, we can get great bao buns right here, just over the river in West Asheville, at the good ol’ Admiral! Who knew? Certainly not us.
Dawn & I had been asking all of our friends where to get pork belly bao buns in Asheville for over a year, and not one of those losers told us to go to The Admiral. Unfriend. Unfriend. Unfriend.
As always, when reporting to you from dimly lit dining halls, I apologize for the grainy quality of my photos. I recently changed a line in my resume from “photographer,” to “phonetographer,” because I thought that was a more apt and forgiving description of my efforts.
Bao buns can come stuffed with all manner of different things, pork belly being pretty standard among them. That’s what’s up at The Admiral: Pork belly bao buns. Chef Ivan Candito and crew do an outstanding job of it too, which makes perfect sense, because Asian food and food from the Southeastern United States seem to have pork belly in common as a prominent ingredient. And pickled stuff too. On the Admiral menu the bao buns are listed as “steamed bun a la carte,” with “pork belly, pickled vegetables, cilantro, spicy mayo,” and they go for $5 a pop. One is a big snack. Two is a meal in my opinion. They’re cheaper than the ones at Momofuku, and almost 700 miles closer to my mouth. So, win win… win win win. So many wins, because I plan on eating as many of these as I can in the future!
Speaking of the future…
It had been a long time since’t I’d been to The Admiral, and afterward I felt glad that they were “still” great. Then I thought to myself, “Well, duh, Asshole. These chefs have a couple more years of experience under their belts since the last time you ate their food, so of course they’re not only ‘still great,’ but they’ve gotten even better.” Then I realized that’s true for every working chef in our town, no matter who they are, and that made me feel really really happy. As good as the food scene in Asheville is right now, it’s only going to keep getting better.
So, Bao Bun at The Admiral in West Asheville, you made me and Dawn super happy in the moment, and made me super happy about the future, and plus you tasted really good, and filled me the fuck up, and those are just some of the reasons that you are my EAT OF THE WEEK!
Address: 400 Haywood Rd, Asheville, NC 28806
Phone: (828) 252-2541
Stu Helm is an artist, writer, and podcaster living in Asheville, NC, and a frequent diner at local restaurants, cafes, food trucks, and the like. His tastes run from hot dogs and mac ‘n’ cheese, to haute cuisine, and his opinions are based on a lifetime of eating out. He began writing about food strictly to amuse his friends on Facebook.
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