In Montclair Eats, food writer Steven DeSalvo compares dishes at Montclair restaurants. DeSalvo has a degree in hospitality business management from the University of Delaware and has worked extensively in restaurants and hotels.
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By STEVEN DeSALVO
For Montclair Local
Steamed buns. One of the greatest comfort foods in the world, they are slowly, but surely, getting the acclaim they deserve in the United States. They are already popular throughout Asia, with different countries having different takes on this miraculously delicious product.
The dough of the pastry is made with a little bit of sugar and a little bit of oil which makes for a slightly sweet flavor and airy but chewy texture. I opted for three very different variations to experience the full spectrum of these differently styled, yet so similar preparations.
The first stop on my tour was Ani Ramen, where I had the Char Siu Pork and Kimchi buns.
Next, I went to Taste of Philippines for a baked barbecue pork bun called “Siopao Tostado.”
Finally, I went to Elyssia’s Kitchen where I enjoyed the bulgogi beef bao.
All three of these items were distinctly different from one another, while all achieving the same goal of being incredibly comforting. (Hence the theme.)
1. At my first stop, Ani Ramen, I had a tough decision to make. Ani has so many different offerings when it comes to buns. Deep-fried shrimp buns and char siu (roasted pork belly) buns are on the permanent menu. They also rotate in specials of chicken katsu buns, which are filled with deep fried chicken, and Japanese sausage buns. However, the buns I decided to feature are the char siu pork and kimchi buns. They have such a perfect balance of all things. The acidity and crunch brought by the kimchi is perfectly married to the richness of the pork, which is shredded in this application. These buns are by no means a neat eating experience, but you won’t care one bit. Other killer options are the homemade pork gyoza, roasted pork rice bowl, and naturally, the ramen!
2. Restaurant number two, Taste of Philippines, has an extensive and intriguing menu. This time I opted for the baked barbecue pork bun or “Siopao Tostado.” This was a delicate, perfectly baked vessel for rich, sumptuous barbecued pork. The ratio of dough to
filling was spot on, along with the perfect browning of the pastry that adds flavor and texture that makes all the difference. There is such a depth of flavor in this filling, it’s really quite special. They also offer exceptional steamed barbecue pork buns. If you are like me and want to enjoy the comparison, I’d suggest trying them both Be sure to try the chicken, shrimp and pork siomai, or the paos on the menu that are very similar to the style at Ani.
3. Finally, at Elyssia’s Kitchen, I sampled the bulgogi beef bao, also called the Korean beef bao. This bun was the most sandwich-like of all of the examples I tried. Thinly sliced,
delicious Korean barbecue beef with plenty of sliced garlic made for an intensely flavorful experience. The thick bun is easily pressed down to make for an excellent hand-held experience.
The beef is so perfectly tender as well, not the least bit chewy, and brilliantly seasoned. Elyssia’s also has a huge selection of dumplings available, boiled or fried: anything from the more standard potstickers fille
d with pork and cabbage, to the magnificent pork soup dumpling. The “soup” is added to the filling by chilling a gelatin enriched broth until it solidifies, then mixing it into the filling. It doesn’t quite classify as a bun, but you should try them, nonetheless!
All three of these places provide distinct examples of a similar food concept. They are all delicious, filling, comforting. You should try them all.
In this article:
• Ani Ramen
401 Bloomfield Ave.
• Taste of Philippines
148 Bloomfield Ave.
• Elyssia’s Kitchen
109C Bloomfield Ave.