Melbourne is a hot spot for all manner of cuisines, but if there's one dish that's become a favourite of late it's the tender, mouth-melting bao (aka steamed buns).
Traditionally known as baozi in Chinese culture but influenced uniquely by many different countries on the subcontinent, these meat-filled buns are similar to dumplings in the sense that they're acceptable as both a scrummy quick-fix snack or a main meal.
While there are dozens of fantastic spots across Melbourne to grab a bao, below you'll find seven of our favourites.
As the name suggests, Wonderbao specialises in these tasty steamed goodies and has been serving locals since 2012. There's a delicious selection on offer, from your stock standard braised pork belly bun to a traditional Choi bao, filled with shiitake mushroom, tofu & veggies. Also on the menu are bao burgers, an ice cream bao and a number of combo deals for those wanting to try a variety of flavours.
Housed in a former bong shop south of the Yarra, this surprisingly delightful spot has a predictably Japanese vibe. There's a bit of DIY to this one, with the Korean marinated beef bulgogi served still on the bone so you can slice off as much as you want and add it to your pickle and kewpie filled bun. If you want to entertain yourself while you eat, there's bottomless booze and brunch bingo every Saturday and the option to hire out a karaoke room and get jiggy with it while smashing down a few bao.
Although their St Kilda location is no more, you can still visit Uncle's CBD address for your fill of mouth-watering Asian specialities. While the crispy pig's ear banh mi with pickles and peanut is a big seller, when it comes to flavour, the chicken steamed bao with fresh Vietnamese mint and spicy pickle is a must. There is also a fantastic selection of drinks along with the ability to cater dishes to your dietary requirements, meaning even your vegan mates can enjoy themselves.
Fitzroy is home to some of the best restaurants in Melbourne, and Rice Queen is no exception. Serving up a smorgasbord of Asian delights - including Korean fried chicken and the must-try red braised squid - in a colourful locale, it might just be the pork bao that makes Rice Queen a favourite. Twice-cooked and served with wasabi mayo, coriander and spring onion, these pork buns are the definition of tastebud heaven.
Supernormal, another popular CBD spot where bao lovers unite, is influenced by classic dishes from some of the biggest restaurants throughout Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul and Hong Kong. What sets Supernormal apart is its twice-cooked duck bao with vinegar and plum sauce. It's hands down the best duck bao you'll ever taste, with a skin that shatters on impact and meat that falls from the bone.
While the wide selection of dumplings are people pleasers at the Oriental Teahouse (you can't go past the chilli pork, Chinese cabbage and sesame dumplings), it's the top-notch bao you should be chasing down. The soft shell crab sliders and hoisin shredded Peking duck with fresh chilli and coriander are two BH certified options.
Shangdona Mama Mini
The little sister of Shangdona Mama, this next-door off-shoot is a smaller space catering to the lunch crowd. Knock back a craft beer or two while chowing down on either the pork or beef buns for just $5. If that doesn't fill you up be sure to have a few dumplings, with the Aussie-influenced 'Melbourne' offering (mixed seafood, chicken mince, lemon rind, olive oil, parsley and garlic) a sure-fire winner. The dumplings here are so good they also feature in our picks for Melbourne's best dumplings. Two birds with one stone.
Shop 5, Centre Place, CBD