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When Wynne Liu was a little girl growing up in Dalian, a seaside city in the northeast province of Liaoning of China, her father created a culinary connection between her family and the humble rice bowl. When he came home from work, he often passed a bento food kiosk that specialised in pork belly rice bowls. “We’d be so excited when he was coming home with the rice bowls, and then we’d enjoy the meal together. That was our family culture.”

Liu’s been away from her hometown for nearly twenty years now. Among the flavours she misses the most are that pork belly rice bowl her dad used to bring home for her. So, when she opened Bao House (and, yes, it is named after the German art school) on Aungier Street in May, she knew she’d have to put it on the menu.

The rice bowl inspired by Liu’s father is tempting but we’ve actually come here for the baos. These steamed buns are a speciality associated with Taiwan, and Bao House are among a select few – alongside Chameleon in Temple Bar and the How Bao Now food stall at The Irish Village Markets – who go the extra mile to make their own baos from scratch.

Liu runs another food business, a food stall called Bite of China located at Kildare Village, and the companies share a central kitchen in Killiney. The baos are made there and delivered to the Aungier Street Bao House every morning. “The flour we use for our bao comes from China,” says Liu. “We tried different suppliers but the flour from China makes the best pillowy texture.”

The fillings are all made in the small kitchen at Bao House, following recipes that Liu developed. The pork, beef, duck and chicken are all Irish; Silver Hill in Monaghan supplies them with duck. The chicken used for the bao is the succulent thigh – bread-crumbed and fried – and so much tastier than the breast. Puffed and fried tofu is on the menu for the vegans and vegetarians.

A personal favourite is the slow-cooked tender pork belly, which is sticky with sweet soy sauce. All baos come with a hoisin-style sauce, crispy onions, spring onions, pickled radish and greens. A meal deal of a bao + drink is €8, and individual baos are €5.80.

The staff are notably charming and make each of my visits a pleasure. “Is this your first time trying a bao?” they ask, with polite enthusiasm to every new customer. Liu tells me their staff come from Taiwan, Malaysia and China, where the bao is kind of a big deal, especially in Taiwan of course.

This is gloriously messy eating, not quite safe for first dates. “Don’t be afraid to get messy with your hands, open your mouth widely and bite into it,” says Liu. “Some people try to use a knife and fork with their bao but we recommend taking a big bite.”

Liu has plans to host dumpling workshops as well as continuing the monthly cultural exchange meet-ups she co-hosts at Bao House in association with the Asian Studies Centre at Trinity College. She sees Bao House as a co-working as well as a social space, and indeed each time I’ve visited the four or five tables in the shop have been filled with people working away on their laptops. “I have my breakfast, lunch and dinner here,” says Liu. “Nothing beats the flavour of home.”

Words: Aoife McElwain

Photos: Killian Broderick

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