“You know, it’s not fair”, whined my inner monologue to no one in particular. “All the interesting new places are opening south of Mumbai’s equator. Bombay Canteen, Pa Pa Ya, Papacream, everything’s going south. By the way, what is with all the papa’s setting up shop in town?”
Ignoring that last jibe, I had to admit that mini-me had a point. All the eye-catching entries on my (entirely imaginary) culinary map of Mumbai have fallen on the other side of the sea link, and so it was that a qurious quartet of food explorers trundled towards town, with me admittedly flouncing my way through at times given Mumbai’s serpentine traffic woes.
A few days later, we landed on that pastiche that always catches the attention of the tourist, Colaba. Home to several quirky curiosities, Colaba can add another notch to that number on the (again, entirely imaginary) scoreboard as the Bao Haus Co. opened up shop here a week and some days back. Google Maps failed to take us to the doorstep of this haus for the hungry, so we turned to the more old-fashioned Google Map and just asked some poor bystander which way to go. Unlike Google Maps, he only issued his navigation instructions once and it was sufficient. I hope you’re taking notes, Mountain View. Old School 1-0 New age.
Landing up on the Bao Haus’ doorstep revealed a kitchen that was small on size, but big on heart and just winding down from a busy lunch service, the witching hour for which had just passed. Half in relief and half in jest, Chef Owner Siddharth Somaiya had enough time to crack a wry smile as he thanked us for landing a little later than we said we would as, “it would have been chaos otherwise”. Let’s just say that like a wizard, we were bao-nd to arrive at precisely the right time, neither too early, nor too late.
The Bao Haus has a very carefully curated menu, and most of us had made our picks for our potential MVB (Most Valuable Bao) of the day. All of us were experiencing some serious hunger pangs brought on by our endless travel down south, and as Bhootni Bipasha might have said, “Yeh jism pyaar karna nahi jaanta; jaanta hai toh sirf khaane ki bhookh.” Indeed, we were hungry to check out some amazing buns, of a different kind of course.
We called for 2 drinks to beat the heat, and in what was to be a trend for the day, things were not as I thought it would be. My pick of the Kaffir Lime and Ginger Soda had too much of a hit of ginger for my liking, leading to a sharper taste than I had in mind. In comparison the Watermelon Hibiscus Soda had a beautifully mellow and fruity flavour that is the perfect summer buster. Let’s face it, it’s eternally summer in Mumbai, so drinks like the Watermelon Hibiscus are a welcome way to beat the heat. Both drinks were interesting in different ways, and they serve to whet our appetite nicely.
Beginning proceedings were the much anticipated Belgian Pork Belly Bao and the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Bao, and having these two face off against one another was a bit of an uneven contest in my eyes. It’s not how you think it to be though; the Pork Belly Bao, with wedges of Belgian pork belly, some lightly pickled daikon and a smattering of barely-there caramelised peanut sugar, didn’t pack the subtle layers of flavour I loved so much with Fatty Bao’s Char Siu Bao. The Buttermilk Fried Chicken Bao, on the other hand, was a revelation. Packed with a sublime honey sriracha glaze and sesame slaw, this crisply fried chicken bao drew enough lusty glances from all of us to tell us that it was everyone’s favorite thus far. The chicken bao was a fiesta of flavours that took us on a carnival ride of joy, one we didn’t want to get off.
As if to show that the Chicken Bao wasn’t just a one-off, the kitchen kooked another batch of kukkad to perfection. Highly recommended by Siddharth himself, the Hickory Smoked Wings were crispened to perfection and I could not get enough of the crackle that reverberated through my skull as I sunk my mandibles into the fantastic wings on offer at the Bao Haus. Slathered in a nuanced, sticky sauce that was a savory delight and with a slight sliver of garlic yoghurt proving a zingy burst of flavor, these wings would give many other eateries a run for their money. Us, we were too busy standing still and soaking in the flavours, so to speak.
These were followed up by the only two baos that left a little bit to be desired for me. The Sous Vide Goat Bao, while boasting a tender texture as it should, lacked the subtly explosive array of flavours that marked out the Buttermilk Fried Chicken Bao as something special. I loved the saucy heat from the jalapeno, but little else. Similarly, much was expected of the Coconut Shrimp Bao, but other than the perfectly crisp (and admittedly large) pieces of prawn, I didn’t have much to shout about from the rooftops. I didn’t get the hit of sweet, sour and spicy that the tamarind glaze, spicy mayo and kaffir lime salt promised to deliver. On a different day and time, these would have been toppers. On the day, they came a bit of a cropper instead.
Redemption, however, was close at hand and it again came from very unlikely quarters. Touted as a Halloween special, it was scary to see just how good the The Carrot Bao with Quinoa cake and Beetroot chips was. The quinoa patty left a fantastic impression as it paraded as a galouti kabab, and the smoothness of the cream cheese paired with the peppery bitterness of the arugula meant the sum of the parts was actually greater than the whole. Particularly noteworthy were the perfect beet chips (never thought I’d use those three words in a row, ever) that I could keep on munching because it’s so hard to beet. (Sorry. Not sorry).
The Bao Haus is, quite simply, an answer to the ennui that has largely beset Mumbai’s food delivery scene. With its fresh ingredients prepared in-house and winning combinations, Bao Haus is like a baus on the Mumbai food delivery scene that delivers, and how. Bombastic in bursts, Bao Haus packages an age-old snack to a relatively new audience, and you can consider me wowed by the bao. Bao Haus Co. packs a lot to love in a little package, and with some more variety and a location closer to home, I can see it occupying pride of place in my contact list, as it perhaps should in yours.