A New York version of Taiwanese street food with a Japanese name – sounds like a gourmet game of Chinese whispers. But just what is a hirata bun? Celia Plender peers below their succulent steamed surface to find out…
The history of hirata buns…
TAIWANESE STREET FOOD
Steamed, folded gua bao buns are Taiwan’s answer to the hamburger. Packed with braised pork, ground peanuts, salt pickles and coriander, this traditional street food snack is where our story begins.
A BITE OF THE BIG APPLE
Since David Chang’s Momofuku Noodle Bar opened in New York in 2004, his folded milk buns filled with roast pork belly, hoisin, cucumber and spring onion have been wowing NY fans of East Asian food.
Japanese ramen chain Ippudo opened in NYC’s East Village with buns named after their executive chef Masashi Hirata. These chashu (braised, pan-fried pork) and lettuce parcels slathered in a spicy sauce were soon causing a stir.
Taking inspiration from Momofuku, Lisa Meyer started Yum Bun as a London street food stall selling steamed, folded snacks in 2010. Moving into bricks and mortar earlier this year, Yum Bun’s first shop is located just off City Road in EC1.
This year, the hirata has been exported across the Ippudo chain, including right here in Japan, where it’s called the ‘Hakata bun’ after Ippudo’s birthplace.
And here’s what you’ll be biting into…
The hirata bun: deconstructed
Once stuffed, these fluffy, folded and steamed Chinese-style buns look a little like Pac-Man after a good meal. They’re often made with milk powder and come in different sizes from three bites upward.
Braised or roasted fatty pork belly makes a popular filling, though other slow-cooked meats, fried seafood or grilled mushrooms can also feature.
Lettuce, cucumber or spring onions add crunch. Some use sweet or salt-pickled veggies to add another dimension.
Sweet, spicy chilli sauce adds a little oomph, while a dollop of mayo is good for squelch factor. Other popular sauces include sweet, salty hoisin, tangy mustard and miso.
Want to try it for yourself? Head to Ippudo in Shibuya
This article originally appeared in Time Out London