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The Edible Section 4: Hirata Buns

So what’s all this ‘Hirata Bun’ lark that everyone’s going on about?
Well, you saw the burger trend kick London into a queuing meat-faced mania. You saw the twitterati obsessively photographing selfies munching into a cronut. And now you’re about to see London go nuts for the Hirata Bun. They are THE new thing in London street food, despite the fact there there’s actually very little ‘new’ about them. It all started a few years ago when Momofuku in New York gave the traditional versions of these buns a trend-setting make over with a pork-belly, hoisin sauce, cucumber and spring onions version, and the rest is hyped-up food history!

So it’s the new trend-setting thing in food? Sounds like a fad to me, think I’ll give it a miss.
No don’t! Whilst it’s easy to dismiss Hirata Buns given the frenzied mania and over-hype attached to them, this is a hype-train well worth getting on board with because they taste fricking awesome.

Ok fine, tell me more – what exactly IS a Hirata Bun?
Essentially a Hirata Bun is a pillowy-soft fluffy Chinese style warm chewy steamed bun made with rice flour, that’s filled with something delicious. Like a folded over foamy burger with just the one bap. Or a cloud-like pastie with the crust taken off. These are palm-sized street-food treats, designed for 3-5 delectable bites and usually costing around £3.50 each which means having at least 2 different ones per sitting is obligatory. The Japanese call them ‘Hirata Buns’, although they actually derive from the Taiwanese street food ‘Gau Boa’, which in turn derive from North Chinese wheat-based ‘Mantou Buns’. TBH the exact origins of them are hotly contested – but what’s most important is that they’ve officially landed in London.

A cloud-like asian burger? I’m interested. What sort of stuff is it filled with?
Oh all sorts – and usually a mix of things that are sour, sweet, salty, spicy and crunchy. There’s always something that takes centre stage – things like tender chunks of pork, crispy battered pollack, spiced shredded duck, Asian marinated chicken, grilled teriyaki salmon, fried tofu or miso-glazed mushrooms. This is generally accompanied by something earthily crunchy like lettuce, handmade pickles, sweet + sour salads, coriander or spring onions. And finally they are usually finished with an array of sticky sauces, chilli dressings, miso mustards, wasabi kewpie mayonnaise, crushed peanuts, sesame seeds and other savory adornments. They are insanely delicious, moreishly varied and wonderfully light.

They sound delicious. Where can I try them?
The superhip rock’n’roll Flesh & Buns in Covent Garden kicked off the hirata-hype in London with it’s boisterous basement venue, original fillings like crispy piglet belly and flat iron steak, and it’s famous do-it-yourself barbeque marshmallow s’mores desserts.

Bao is a market stall that champions the Taiwanese variants at Kerb in Kings Cross and Netil Market in Hackney. Their delicious classic Gua Bao is filled with slow braised Pork Belly, home pickles, peanut powder and coriander.

Jubo is the Korean canteen at the Bedroom Bar in Shoreditch which has amongst others, delicious buns filled with thick slabs of beef brisket and chilli mayo.

Other notable places in on the bun-thing include Shoryu Ramen in Soho, Bintang in Camden, Rock Lobsta at Mahiki and Leong’s Legends in China Town.

But where are the very best one’s?
Well in our view it has to be Yum Buns (yumbun.co.uk) round the corner from Old Street roundabout. Their buns are the softest and fluffiest around, and we just can’t stop going back for their beef rendang with peanuts and radish, nanban chicken with chilli dressing and crispy fish with gochujang mayo. The staff are lovely and we’re obsessed with their neon Yum Bun sign– well worth the wait in the busy lunchtime rush!

Ok I’ll give them a go. But the new burgers really?
A million times yes – just try them, you’ll see!

- Gurdeep Loyal

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