Melbourne's top 8 bao venues 2016

Wonderbao in Melbourne CBD.
Wonderbao in Melbourne CBD. Photo: Eddie Jim

It's fast approaching hand-held snack season despite everything the weather says. And no food, bar the taco, has captured our hearts and hands in recent years as much as Taiwan's gua bao – the mitt-like fold of fluffy steamed bread that became a global phenomenon courtesy of David Chang's Momofuku pork buns.

Sometimes excellently referred to as "tiger bites pig" for the pincer grip of the bun around pork, iterations have filled every local Japanese, Chinese and Korean juke joint around. Still, few chefs have gained as much celebrity for their buns as May Chow. The ex-Yardbird chef and style icon has taken Hong Kong by storm with her drunken chicken buns and burger-like PBJ dessert at Little Bao. They are the Lune croissants of Hong Kong, and they're heading to Melbourne, where they will star in a beer-and-bao-fuelled Olympic ping pong battle at Supernormal on Wednesday, October 26 to kick off The Age Good Food Month.

DIY duck bao at Supernormal.
DIY duck bao at Supernormal. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

In celebration, we've rounded up Melbourne's top contenders to face Chow's buns down.

A bao a day… Melbourne's best bao

Shandong Mini

This lunch magnet – an offshoot of the little family-run eatery that could, Shandong Mama – is a powerhouse of flavour packed hand-made dishes from its potstickers to its marbled tea eggs. The bao here is a rich, juicy mess of bun-swaddled slow-cooked pork and coriander. Low on mayo, high on mess.

5 Centre Place, Melbourne, 0421 461 898

Tokyo Tina's beef short rib bao.
Tokyo Tina's beef short rib bao. Photo: Simon Shiff

Supernormal

Supernormal's twice-cooked duck bao is reaching lobster roll level in cult status and we count ourselves among its fans. All hail that soft, fragrant meat and shattery skin, countered by lightly pickled cucumbers. But come October 26 we can't wait to line it up beside the drunken chicken and PBJ ice-cream baos from May Chow of Hong Kong's Little Bao.

180 Flinders Lane, Melbourne, 03 9650 8688, supernormal.net.au. Tickets to Beer Pong with May Chow available here

Uncle

Uncle is the mod-Vietnamese hero St Kilda East never knew it needed until it arrived to light up lives in 2013. For us, it's as much about the space they create for bun-eating – especially that bamboo-girt rooftop – as it is about the profusion of handheld snacks. Special note here to the chicken tenderloin bao with chilli and pickles, which are now the biggest-selling item on the menu.

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188 Carlisle Street, St Kilda, 03 9041 2668, unclestkilda.com.au.

Tokyo Tina

It's the DIY aspect that does it here, where a sticky beef short rib arrives for shredding and stuffing in your Michelin Man mitt. Or maybe we're just control freaks who like to micro-manage that essential ratio of Kewpie mayo and pickles to meat.

66a Chapel Street, Windsor, 03 9525 2774, tokyotina.com.au

Pork belly bao at Wonderbao.
Pork belly bao at Wonderbao. Photo: Supplied

Wonderbao

If you're of the school of thought that everything tastes better in a bun, this is your home. Credit where it's due here, too, for the extra keen focus on vegan options for the non-pork-inclined. The silken tofu gua bao with roasted peanuts, pickled mustard greens and sweet sauce has a lot of fans for good reason.

4/19-37 A'Beckett Street, Melbourne, wonderbaokitchen.com.au

Spice Temple

Take this as a friendly reminder that Neil Perry's Spice Temple does bang up yum cha and as part of that, places white-cut chicken twixt the cheeks of a steamed bun.

Deep-fried chicken and sriracha mayo bao from the Bao Bros.
Deep-fried chicken and sriracha mayo bao from the Bao Bros. Photo: Bonnie Savage

Crown Towers Melbourne, 8 Whiteman Street, Southbank, 03 8679 1888, rockpool.com/spicetemplemelbourne

The Bao Bros

This duo offers bao of no fixed abode, most recently taking over kitchens at the likes of Footscray's Littlefoot and the Hotel Lincoln. But when you can find them, their gua bao stuffed with fried chicken or thick measures of roast duck are to be reckoned with.

Stay abreast of their movements online at thebaobros.com.au

Bao Stop will be back at the Melbourne Night Noodle Markets.
Bao Stop will be back at the Melbourne Night Noodle Markets. Photo: Supplied

Bao Stop

Another moveable feast, Bao Stop is currently pumping out bao at the Sydney Night Noodle Markets to an ever-growing line and it's Melbourne's turn from November 10. This year, they're also bringing Peking duck-loaded fries with them.

Supernormal and May Chow are teaming up for a bao and beer pong party.

Supernormal and May Chow are teaming up for a bao and beer pong party. Photo: Kristoffer Paulsen

Want more bao? Check out these events at The Age Good Food Month

May Chow x Beer Pong at Supernormal

For one night only, Supernormal is transforming into a giant table tennis battle arena where actual olympians will flex their guns, and cocktails, icy beers, May Chow bao and Supernormal food will flow free. Get one hand on a paddle and the other around PBJ ice cream bao, truffle fries and yakitori. Party hard, pong late. 6pm-10pm Wednesday, October 26. Tickets are $95 including all food and several drink tokens. See goodfoodmonth.com

Night Noodle Markets

The country's biggest hawker markets return to Birrarung Marr on November 10 for a record 18 nights of noodles, bao and more. goodfoodmonth.com