In junior high I used to regularly take the bus with my best friend from our safe, strip-malled suburb of ticky tacky houses to downtown Seattle. We’d rotate between Broadway Street in the neighborhood of Capitol Hill – vintage bell bottoms in thrift stores, hipster coffee shops with fancy foamed beverages, Dick’s Cheeseburgers and eccentric crossdressers with mohawks and four inch platform heels – and The Ave, the dingy main drag below the University of Washington, full of street kids, cheap pizza slices or Asian food, and novelty shops with pipes and black light posters.
It all felt so vibrant to me. A secret, wider world outside of where my teenage cohorts were riding bikes and smoking pot behind trees in the backyard of their parent’s house, or writing notes and passing them through the slots of lockers at school.
Occasionally as a special treat, my best friend and I would also ride the bus all the way to Pike Place Market – a popular tourist destination that never grows old even with the Seattle locals. Here too, we’d have a routine we’d stick to for the 2-3 hours we had before riding the bus all the way back home to our suburb free of spray paint, street performers, leather and smoke: we’d visit the comic book store downstairs, Kava from the tea shop, the bead store to buy odd trinkets for friendship necklaces and bracelets, and we’d always, always eat a $2.25 hum bao from Mee Sum Pastry.
via @smgonzales on Instagram
This is the memory I think of every time I think of hum bao – large sweet rolls, buttered and shiny on the outside and soft on the inside, with a gooey sweet and sour pork filling. To this day, I go all wide-eyes, little kid excited when I see hum bao and screech HUM BAOAAA. And whatever friend with me says, “Huh? Hum bao?” Get with the program peeps! If you haven’t had a hum bao, you must try one immediately. And a good way to do so is from The Chairman Bao food truck in San Francisco.
via @inabagne on Instagram
The Chairman Bao was the food truck pulled up at the curb at the wedding I attended a couple weeks ago on a Food Truck Date. I was excited to see The Chairman Bao because it’s one of the most popular trucks in San Francisco (voted best food truck by San Francisco Magazine), and every time I’ve spotted it at Off the Grid’s Friday night Fort Mason party, it has those line dividers set up to control the line (like at the airport!). That’s how many people are willing to wait for The Chairman’s bao tacos and buns.
The Chairman is one of SF’s supreme food trucks – with a design from a Tawainese-American visual artist whose work has been published in DC Comics, Prada, ESPN and Atlantic Records; buns delivered fresh daily and handcrafted from Clement Restaurant in the Inner Richmond who imports their yeast from China; and a menu that allows you to choose a steamed bao taco or baked bun bao filled with their unique pairings such as pork belly with turmeric pickled daikon & green shiso.
The Chairman “heartily recommends that you get whatever tickles your buns.” For me, that was was the pork belly on the baked bun, and for my date that was the Coca-Cola braised pork with savoy cabbage & preserved yellow mustard seeds AND the spicy chicken with toasted sesame purée, pickled carrots-cucumber and cilantro, both on a baked bun.
While all of it was super tasty, the baked buns are huge and filling (and a bit messy with all the ingredients falling out the sides). I’ve tried a couple of the steamed taco versions from The Chairman Bao before, and I recommend going that route since it’s less filling and you can try ALL of their flavors. (Personally, my fav is the Coca-Cola braised pork!) Still on my list though is the duck confit terrine. Ooh la la!