The most popular order at De’ Bao – Phnom Penh’s latest take on “upmarket” street food – stretches the limits of the portmanteau, but it’s flying out of the oven.
The “baoger”, as it’s called, takes as its starting point guo bao, a Taiwanese street food of steamed buns folded around pork belly, peanuts, dried seaweed and sesame seeds.
Owner Teksaing Phou returned to his native Phnom Penh after six years in the US and a few in Singapore, and decided he wanted to add a new twist on the dish – to “put Asian and Western tastes together,” he explained this week.
At De’ Bao, these fusion options are all under $2, including the signature umami baoger ($1.80). It’s a slow-cooked beef patty wedged between two round bao buns, served with truffle mayo, onion, cheese, salad and peanuts. The kitchen opens early to get to work on perfecting the meat so the buns can be steamed quickly later on. “It is not fast food,” Phou said.
The menu also features fried shrimp bao ($1.50), pulled-pork bao with an egg ($1.70) and the aforementioned classic variety ($1.20). Phou’s first experiment was with fried-ice-cream bao, which he serves with a scoop of green tea, taro or vanilla.
The baoger is the top seller, according to the 23-year-old businessman. “We sell 100 or 150 baogers on the busiest days,” he said.
Everything is made in-house, but Phou credits his early success to the buns. The restaurant bakes about 200 fresh daily from a recipe he devised himself.
It took some time. Phou wanted to make something different from the buns served on Cambodia’s streets: “When we eat bao on the street here, it’s powdery and it always sticks to your tongue,” he explained. “I decided I needed to figure out how to make my own recipe – I tried a lot of buns.”
Western takes on the baoger have popped up around the world: from Berlin to Amsterdam to Sydney. Phou may have taken their cue, but he emphasises his own business’ Phnom Penh roots. “We want to encourage local brands instead of having franchises,” he said. “I want to enter the local field – this is a local brand.”
Phou said he wasn’t sure at first if the model would take off here, but he courts customers with his prices, comparable to the street stall.
“Cambodians never appreciate handmade stuff, because it tends to cost more,” he said. “But I want to make it available to everybody – I keep the price really low, but with quality taste.”
And if that doesn’t work, he’ll go for the gimmick: “It’s the uniqueness of having Asian and Western food together in one bun,” the owner said with a smile.
De’ Bao is located at #49 Street 288 in BKK1. It is open every day from 11am to 8pm, and has delivery service. Tel: 078 700 816.