Shop 4, 19-37
The Wonderbao "phenomenon" in foodie circles has been around for quite awhile. Popular with mostly hip quirky students, especially located in the uni district, it has the distinct industrial chic look so popular with achingly-oh-so-current eateries. Situated at the rear of an unassuming building with a neighbour selling dubious copies of Chanel and Hermes bags and shoes, with a milling crowd of youngsters wearing funky glasses with no lenses, it definitely appealed to the quirkiness in me (but the high-brow alter frowns at their fashion copy neighbour).
Truth is I have been tremendously indolently inert in my posts. I have been to Wonderboa countless times, especially when I did not feel up to braising pork belly for 8 hours in my slow cooker. The clam buns are called Mantou. Bragging is abhorrent, but really, after you have had West Lake "Kong Bak (braised meat) Bao (bun)" and have emulated the same home-cooked version (recipe here) several times, yours truly holds the title of smug expert in all things bao.
The large steamers with branding and Chinese wordings of "buns" gives the space a clever Chinese identification. Service is always cheery. But let's face it, this eatery is really a takeaway outlet than a dine-in experience. Strangely, with the entire back wall of glass facing a back alley with a dumpster in close proximity, there were actually people (by choice) sitting outside enjoying their buns. I applaud their bravado.
We have tried most of the items on the menu. Their ordinary baos are decent but are not stand-outs by any means. What we really come here for are their pork belly (braised or roasted) and the tofu.
The roasted pork belly bao has a beautifully soft texture while retaining just enough firmness of its shape. The clam buns are soft and sweetly made. The pickled carrots/daikon with cucumber and a sticky brown sauce completes the ensemble where each component provides a nice contrast with the other. The textural aspect of the Roasted Pork Bao was great. The crunch of the salads with the juiciness of pork that has somehow retained its meaty flavour despite the softness of the belly suggests a long cooking time, is just brilliant.
The tofu was an absolute delight although too generous a serving of sauce can dampen the bun and make it soggy. The crust of the fried tofu belies a soft and piping hot centre. With the fragrance of coriander and crushed peanuts also in a mouthful, vegetarians can truly enjoy this bun without compromising on taste as so many eateries tend to cater to vegetarian options almost like an afterthought.
But the piece de resistance as a personal fave for S (mine is torn between tofu and this) is the Braised Pork Belly Bun. The pork belly has been braised to tender perfection. A tell-tale sign is the deep kecap-manis colour of the pork, the gelatinous layers of fat and almost melt-in-your-mouth pulled chunks of meat. The richness of this kong bak is complemented by warm steaming clam mantou, providing a pillowy slightly sweet sidekick to the pork belly. The addition of preserved mustard cuts through the richness of the meat with the tang and sourness needed to intensify the flavours. Texturally, the mustard, peanuts and coriander harmonises with the softness of the bun and pork belly. Wonderbao serves the Taiwanese version rather than the Singaporean one, but it works.
For times when we are not entertaining and we crave the hit of kong bak bao, a trip down to Wonderbao is an easy fix. We are there and back way before the timeframe of 8 hours of braising time. Although tempting, I quite likely would not serve this to our guests due to the sogginess of the buns from the sauce if not eaten fresh. Besides I so enjoy the process of catering for a dinner party.
I can quite easily reach my calorie count for the day with a few of these. But again, if this is my only meal of the day and I have spent all my calorie budget on it, might as well make the calories worth it.