Wednesday, January 20, 2010

[台北] - 藍家割包 Lan Jia Gua Bao - pork belly burger steamed bun at its finest - BELLY GOOD

A quick disclaimer before I begin: I never had formal Mandarin lessons, and my version of the romanization of the characters are not based on proper pinyin.

With that in mind, let's start with a brief lesson in conversational Mandarin (aka Outrageous Chinese). It is important to note that certain words follow an order. Make them out of order and be prepared to have a little fun (at your or someone else's expense). Or if you add an additional word, it can take on a whole new meaning.


You want to compliment a woman (or a man's) spiffy and great looking leather handbag. You can say

"Ni de pee bao jun hao kan!" (你的皮包真好看!)

but if you say

"Ni de bao pee jun hao kan" (你的包皮真好看!)

you just complimented someone on their great looking foreskin. Unless of course, their handbag or manbag looks like it was made with brand name foreskins....(shameless mention of course, the jokes about rubbing a wallet made out of foreskins becomes a suitcase moments later)

Lesson #2:

Gua Bao 割包 (the characters referring to shaved or cut bun) is what bloggers and budding gourmets refer to as the Taiwanese Hamburger. It is a no nonsense classic snack consisting of

- braised oinkalicious and oinkshii juicy pork belly (aka 五花肉) in spices/herbs/soy sauce.
- marinated/preserved sour veg (finely diced) 梅干菜
- finely ground peanuts (sometimes in powder form)
- cilantro 香菜

all put together in a light airy steamed doughy bun (better than those served with Peking Ducks in the USA).

And here's where to find one of the definitive versions in Taipei. Best of all, it is very close to Taipei University, where students can eat superb authentic small flavorful snacks, all on a budget.

The name of this joint is called Lan Jia Gua Bao (or Blue's Place Gua Bao) 藍家割包 where not only they specialize in Gua Bao, but also something that translates to Four Gods Soup 四神湯 (which interestingly tastes very similar to a Cantonese slow fire cooked herbal soup known as "Ching Bo Leung")

The Gua Bao station is actually a pushcart "kitchen" facing the street! Convenient for those getting it to go

 You sit down, write down what you want on the pad, and hand that sheet to waitstaff who will bring the food to your table. Oh yeah, no tipping needed.

The explanation of Four Gods Soup 四神湯 (sorry bout the reflection of the light)

Four Gods Soup 四神湯 which has barley and your choice of pig intestine and/or stomach (both are really really good)

Four Gods Soup 四神湯 contains dried mountain yam (yamaimo), lotus seed, and two more Chinese herbs I cannot translate. Each herb has a specific healing attribute, but combining them all can do wonders to your intestinal tract.

When you finish you then pay your bill at the front, and make it to the next stop.

I'm told that the owner of the store (who I'm sure is one seriously rich arse mofo), spent countless hours experimenting with the right proportions for his signature offering of Gua Bao. Something so simple, yet it has to be an exact science to end up with a perfect result.

5 different ratios of pork belly to choose for your gua bao! Lean, Fat, combo, combo w/more lean, and combo w/more fat. Recommended when you are traveling, is NOT to hold back and be a calorie whore. Go for the bandonkadonk fat fest. Big IS Beautiful as they say. The best part is, it is all light on the lips. Doesn't even taste filling! Oh yes, like fruity wine coolers that you can imbibe without knowing how drunk it can make you.

Eating here again recently got me thinking of some of the more current food events. If you think the pork belly steamed buns at Heaven's Dog (SF), or David Chang's Momofuku are god's gift to avante garde cutting edge mofo fusion fancy cuisine, you seriously need to get your head examined or re-calibrated by coming here.

While I have never (nor will I ever) consume one of these $7 to $9+ versions done by Phan or Chang, they are a complete farce once you've had a Lan Jia Gua Bao, about the size (volume wise) of an In & Out hamburger, but yet is only US$1.50 per. Tastes insanely great, much less filling.

The Phan and Chang versions have the pork either roasted or braised rather plainly, maybe brined beforehand, then covered in a little hoisin sauce and a scallion stick (the white part), then called a day. It is as if they're trying a Peking Duck version (Peking Pork?) of the handisnack. Worse yet, Chang's cookbook apparently offers a receipe for making the buns, yet the dood outsources them to pre-made (frozen?) versions at his restaurants.

Lan Jia Gua Bao... man the effort each piece of love is put in.

- a meticulous stewed/braised/simmered pork belly receipe where even the lean cuts are soft yet dances off your teeth and the fatty skin portions feel more collagenic than heart stopping goodness.
- delicately chopped preserved mustard greens (mei gan tsai 梅干菜) that while pungent by themselves in raw form, take away the heaviness of the pork

- shaved peanut powder adds a touch of sweetness

- some cilantro to make it comforting

- in house made perfected steamed buns, like marshmellows but are firm enough to hold the goodness.

These guilty sexy steps are repeated ad naseum by the vendor

藍家割包 (Lan Jia Gua Bao)
台北市中正區羅斯福路三段316巷8弄3號‎  (Taipei City, Zhongzen District, Roosevelt Road, 3rd portion, Alley 316, 8 "long", No. 3, it's very close to Gong Guan MRT station, across from NTU/National Taipei Univeristy)
Tel: 02-2368-2060‎

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