Bao buns have been eaten as far back as in third century China. Originally named “mantou”, these fluffy white buns were steamed and stuffed with sweet or savoury fillings. Over the centuries, this humble street food transformed through numerous innovations across different regions.
Side Dishes for Bao Buns: Elevating the Experience
The choice of sides for bao buns can truly take the entire experience to the next level. Complementary sides that work in harmony with the flavours of the filling help create a scrumptious mouthful. The aim is to make each bite a party of textures and flavours! Options range from cooling salads to crunchy pickled vegetables to spicy slaws. With the right pairing, sides can transform an average bao bun into a sublime gastronomic adventure.
Nutritious, Cost-Effective Sides
When selecting sides for health-supporting plant-based bao bun meals, focusing on affordable fresh or even frozen vegetables helps maximise nutrition. Bright broccoli florets, sweet peas, hearty leafy greens like spinach and kale, green beans, courgette or yellow squash, carrots, cabbage and beets offer a spectrum of flavours and textures while optimising nutrition on a budget. Canned or dried beans and lentils also provide satiating protein and fibre for mere pennies a serving.
Vegetarian and Vegan Bun Options
In recent times plant-based eating has shot into popularity due to ethical, health and environmental reasons. Lucky for vegetarians and vegans, bao buns adapt flawlessly to meatless, dairy-free fillings too. Hearty pan-fried mushrooms, crispy tofu, roasted aubergine and courgette, sweet potato, spicy garlicky broccoli, chickpeas or nutty plum jam lend themselves particularly well to these fluffy steamed vessels.
Veggie bao offers guilt-free nourishment and soul-hugging satisfaction too. Plus vegetable sides provide a natural plant-powered accompaniment while adding texture, colours and nutrients. With the Impossible burger achieving meat-mimicry breakthroughs, plant based bao options will likely continue expanding creativity even further.
Cucumber Salad: A Refreshing Contrast
A simple cucumber salad makes for a refreshingly crisp contrast to the soft and fluffy texture of bao buns. Thinly sliced cucumbers dressed lightly with vinegar, sugar and herbs offer a cooling crunchy bite that balances nicely with savoury bao fillings. High in water content and nutrients, cucumber salad keeps the meal feeling light and healthy.
Vietnamese Pickled Vegetables: A Zesty Crunch
Vietnamese pickled vegetables such as radishes and carrots marinated in a tangy solution of vinegar, sugar, water and salt provide a delicious crunch alongside bao buns. In addition to a burst of flavour, these probiotic-rich veggies aid digestion. The acidity and texture make these pickles an exceptional match for rich meats in bao buns.
Spicy Asian Slaw: Cabbage With a Kick
For those who like some heat with their meal, a spicy Asian slaw adds a tongue-tingling component. This colourful melange of chopped cabbages is coated in a mix of Asian seasonings like soy sauce, rice vinegar and sesame oil, topped with fresh chilies for extra zing. The crunch of the vegetables paired with the subtle spice amplifies the soft, savoury flavours of the bao fillings marvellously.
Sesame Garlic Green Beans: Simplicity at Its Best
A quick sauté of fibre-rich green beans tossed in a garlicky sesame sauce makes for a winning side. The simplicity of this dish belies an incredible depth of flavour. The natural sweetness of the green beans complements sweeter bao bun fillings, while sesame and garlic marry beautifully with heartier meats. High in antioxidants, this veggie side adds nutrients as well as taste.
Stir Fried Bok Choy: Light and Nutritious
Among the vast variety of Asian greens, bok choy stands out for its mild sweet flavour and trademark crunch. When stir fried briefly with seasonings like garlic and ginger, these crunchy stalks and leafy greens become an ideal match for richly stuffed bao buns. Bok choy adds plenty of vitamins A, C and K. The light sweetness and texture provide balance alongside the unctuous fillings.
Honey Chili Lotus Root: A Tantalising Twist
While not yet commonplace globally, lotus root deserves to be sought out for its fabulous flavour and texture. When cooked in a sweet and spicy honey chilli glaze, lotus root becomes irresistible. The signature crunch and beautiful patterned slices pair gamely with bao bun fillings. Lotus root adds an unexpected but welcome dimension to this Asian-inspired meal.
Ginger Miso aubergine: Umami-Rich and Healthy
aubergine might not get as much glory as other vegetables, but it caramelises beautifully and boasts immense health benefits. When marinated in a gingery miso sauce then gently cooked until supremely tender, it becomes exceptionally silky and flavorful. The Japanese-inspired umami richness pairs sublimely with equally rich bao bun fillings like braised pork belly. aubergine contains antioxidants like nasunin that protect cells from damage – an added boon.
Korean Seasoned Spinach: Straightforward and Nutritious
Blanched spinach dressed simply in soy sauce, garlic and sesame oil epitomises the Korean style of preparation: uncomplicated but hugely flavorful. This leafy green vegetable has amassed incredible fame for its dense nutrients. The straight-forward savoury seasoning brings out spinach’s natural sweetness and pairs well with all kinds of bao fillings. Easy to prepare, this vitamin and mineral-rich side is a veritable nutritional powerhouse.
Roasted Shishito Peppers: Smoky, Spicy Surprise
Japanese shishito peppers develop an irresistible smokiness when blistered in a hot pan or the oven. Contrary to their wrinkly, intimidating looks, these petite peppers are generally mild in heat with the occasional spicy surprise pepper thrown in for thrill-seekers. Their delicate fruity flavour makes for an exciting contrast to the soft fluffiness of bao buns, while also boosting the vitamin C content of the meal.
Dipping Sauces: Picking the Perfect Pairings
Dipping sauces complete the bao bun experience, elevating flavours and offering a burst of excitement between bites. Whether it’s zesty chilli oil, aromatic scallion ginger sauce, sweet and savoury Southeast Asian inspired peanut dipping sauce, or a classic hoisin sauce, the right dip opens the door to tactile fun while accentuating the flavours of the buns and fillings at hand. Making these delectably flavour-packed condiments at home is cost effective, healthy and allows complete control over ingredients for both taste and dietary preferences alike. With endless mouth watering options, part of the joy lies in picking complementary pairings that make both taste buds and health a priority.
Smart Shopping in Times of Rising Prices
With most households feeling the crunch of a global cost of living crisis, sticking to a budget-conscious food plan helps ease tricky times for many. When planning bao bun meals, getting the best bargains on fresh produce and pantry staples through smart shopping techniques helps save precious dollars.
Checking grocery store flyers for sales on seasonal veggies for pickling and sides, buying staple sauces and condiments in bulk, and preparing dough and fillings from scratch at home using economical whole ingredients allows creating tasty, comforting bao on a budget. Freezing extras also helps cut waste and future meal costs. Inexpensive yet delicious bao bun dining is possible even now through careful spending, savvy use of leftovers and strategic scratch cooking.
Bao buns have evolved over centuries from a humble foodstuff to become a global sensation with infinite gourmet potential. Health-conscious trends have sparked creative innovations in bao doughs and fillings. Most importantly, pairing them with complementary sides can seriously upgrade the culinary adventure. Thoughtfully selected sides not only provide additional textures, flavours and colours but also boost the nutritional value of the meal. So, the next time bao buns are on the menu, consider sides as an opportunity to take the experience to new heights!