Channing Xing believes our culinary DNA is often forged when we're young. When Xing was growing up in Shanxi – the northern Chinese province famous for flour-based staples such as fried flatbread and knife-cut noodles – he became hooked on roujia mo, a local pork-belly sandwich with a 3,000 year-old-history.
He never looked back.
"Outside the primary school I attended there were a lot of coffee carts and vendors selling street food, and you could buy roujia mo, a palm-sized sandwich filled with pork belly for four or five Chinese yuan," he tells SBS.
"Then, on a trip to New York City with my wife in 2017, I came across so much food from northern China. People were lining up from three o'clock in the afternoon to eat at a restaurant called Xi'an Famous Food. I thought, 'this is my food, the food I grew up with!' I realised that time has proven it, history has proven it – it’s time for me to open [a place] in Sydney."
That place is Cafe Mo'st, Sydney's very first shrine to the roujia mo or "pork between bread".
"Time has proven it, history has proven it – it’s time for me to open [a place] in Sydney."
The sandwich, which dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (1046 to 256 BC), also has ties to China's Uyghur Muslim community, which has been serving halal versions stuffed with braised lamb since the days in which the historic Shanxi capital X'ian was a crossroads for merchants on the Old Silk Road.
At Cafe Mo'st, however, Xing has adapted these ancient traditions to modern-day Sydney. For instance, it offers a Hainan-style roujia mo filled with chicken breast, cucumber, pickled carrot, fried onion and ginger-shallot dressing.
There's also a vegetarian option that revolves around king mushroom and master-stock tofu.
But classic roujia mo, which comes crowned with sprigs of coriander and — if you're game — fiery chilli oil, is by far the most popular.
"Although we've only been open for three months, we sell more than 100 of the classic roujia mo a day."
It features pork belly stewed in traditional spices like star anise and the addition of smoked pork adds texture and complexity (Xing won't divulge the full recipe which is the handiwork of Shilang Tan, his sister-in-law).
"We put smoked pork in the sandwich so there is less gravy but more flavours and layers," he says, adding that Cafe Mo'st also serves liang pi, a salad of cold wheat noodles prepared with sesame paste, single-origin coffees from Five Senses and a range of high-quality Chinese tea.
"In China, bao is considered a quick carb and is easy to digest," he laughs.
"Mo is harder and drier because thousands of years ago people had to travel long distances and carry the bread with them. It is crispy on the outside and tender on the inside. It's supposed to absorb the juice from the meat which makes it extra tasty."
Shop 7, Barrack Place, 151 Clarence St, Sydney
Monday-Friday, 7:00 am–4:00 pm