06 | Mar | 12

Richard Johnson

Nice Buns

Every once in a while you stumble across something special. Something that hasn’t already been flagged up by an army of bloggers and trend analysts. Ananda Pellerin, who writes a regular food column called The Hunger, had her epiphany in London’s Chinatown. With — of all things — a steamed bun. Photos: Neil Wissink

We came to the cha siu bao (pork bun) stall at Newport Court in Chinatown via a vegetarian friend of ours. Victoria, who had lived in Beijing, sussed out that their veggie buns were the cheapest and best no-meat mini-meal in central London. We followed her, politely agreed, and then quickly moved on to the pork.

Located outside the Yang Guang supermarket, whose staff man the small operation, this Cantonese bun stall ‘sans nom’ has elicited excitement of late from savvy street food aficionados. You never have to wait long because the idea is simple and easy to deliver: large steamed buns filled with well-seasoned barbecued pork, ordered quickly and eaten on the spot.

The bread-like buns are sticky and unassuming, so it’s hard not to feel a small thrill when you take your first bite and the steam pours out, only to reveal the hearty filling inside. For a no-meat option, the chive and egg and vegetable buns are deliciously seasoned as well. Satisfying and cheap, at £1.50 a pop our only regret is that the stall isn’t still open after last orders.

Across town, in the Broadway Market Schoolyard, Yum Bun have made a name for themselves with Taiwanese buns inspired by Momofuku’s take on gua bao. Founders Lisa Meyer and Jacob Walters have been keeping East Londoners happily fed since September 2010. But now they’re spreading the love, and sell at the Eat Street Market in Kings Cross on Thursdays.

Free range Blythburgh pork  from The Rare Breed Meat Company is served with chives, cucumbers and hoisin sauce, on a light and fluffy open bun made from organic flour. You can taste the fine quality of the slow-cooked belly as it melts in your mouth, while the Portobello mushroom and walnut bun is almost as meaty and just as rewarding.