Often it’s difficult to pinpoint where food trends start, but in the case of the spread of gua baos (referred to as just baos in Australia) across Sydney, Belly Bao claims pioneer status. They started out serving the Taiwanese snack at a stall at Paddington Markets before they were available anywhere in Sydney. Next step was opening their first venue in GoodGod Small Club at the beginning of 2015, serving sweaty dancers in need of refuelling.
Now, they have a new home in Newtown - a move they’re very excited about.
“We’ve always wanted to have our own space - that was our ultimate goal. Our place in Newtown represents the brand really well,” says chef and co-owner Sylvia Tran, who runs it with Kiren Chua.
It wasn’t only baos - the pillowy, taco-shaped bun with fillings such as pork belly and beef short rib - they introduced locals to.
They came up with their own invention, the baoger.
Literally a bao bun (in two halves rather than a taco shape) with a hamburger filling.
And with their new venue, they have a new dish - bao noodles.
“I was eating noodles one night, and I thought - I should try making bao noodles. I started cutting the bao dough really thin, just to see how they went. They came out so much better than I thought,” Tran says.
Served simply with either onion or in a sate chilli sauce, they have a springy consistency that soaks up the flavour of the other ingredients.
Both versions are vegan, which is a theme that runs through the menu. With an eggplant baoger, a crispy tofu bao and sides such as five-spice mushrooms or gai lan, there are plenty of options.
Even desserts come in bao form.
Noodles aren’t the only new thing at their Newtown spot. A new vegan dessert is made of bao dough infused with pandan essence, deep fried and rolled in coconut sugar with a brown sugar syrup and whipped coconut cream. “There are endless possibilities because we make it on site; we might do a chocolate flavour in the future. We never wanted to deviate from baos - everything will have some element of bao in them.”
And then there are the off-menu dessert specials like this Big Gay Bao, sandwiching a Gaytime.
The liquor license is yet to come through, but there are all sorts of drinks Chua is keen to serve. He’ll create a menu inspired by the simple mixed drinks served in karaoke bars, like green tea with Hennessey. There’ll also be a couple of local wines and Asian beers. But it already has a fun vibe without booze - the music is loud and the walls are painted in the colours of a tropical sunset with green tiles and orange and green chairs.
184 King St, Newtown, NSW