A cheap and cheerful house of snacking where you leave with belly and back pocket full
Separated physically and politically from the mainland, Taiwan has developed its own distinct food culture, at the heart of which lies xiao chi, or “small eats”. Heartier than a mere snack, but harbouring no intentions of being a main, xiao chi are served throughout the island’s many open air night markets. There, locals arrive without a plan, simply walking and grazing on whatever happens to catch their eye. To enter one of these sprawling, heaving, almost sentient markets is to face an infinity of possible eating sequences – will your next move be a skewer of smoky grilled squid, or a gua bao stuffed with glossy pork belly? A cup of silky mee sua noodles, or a palm-sized pancake piped with sweet red bean paste?
Like mezze for the Turkish or tapas for the Spanish, xiao chi doesn’t just describe what Taiwanese people eat, it describes how they eat, where at all times, the next delicious mouthful might literally be around the corner. Sadly, Sydney’s buttoned-up bed time and food safety laws preclude a similar culture ever blooming in our backyards, but to soften the blow, peppy little diners like Bao Dao, on Chatswood’s main strip, do their bit to bring the spirit of street food – and its prices – indoors.
Start by filling the table up with fun, snacky sides. On the cards for less than $5 a pop are satiny wedges of braised eggplant, sweet and sour shards of pickled cabbage, and wobbly blocks of tofu, first deep fried into discipline, then stewed back to pillowy softness in soy and five spice. If you’re partial to a spot of fried chook, meet basil chicken, what popcorn chicken dreams of becoming when it grows up. Marinated nubbins of thigh aren’t battered in flour but instead coated in potato starch for frying, resulting in a blistered exterior made for high crunching. Tossed in salt, pepper, dry spices and crispy basil leaves, tell the Colonel he can keep his secrets.
Wait, is that a tenner in your pocket? If so, your Deliciousness Potentiality Index just rose on account of a bowl of saucy rice noodles, in which the nuttiness of sesame paste is played against sweetened soy and rice wine. The thick and creamy mix is leavened by the fresh crunch of julienned cucumber and carrot, and a handy dash of vinegar from the table.
Save the last of your stomach real estate for lu rou fan. Here, they find the fattiest cut of pork belly in the shop to slice, dice and braise until dark and sticky with flavour, before spooning the whole saucy shebang over rice with pickled mustard greens, shallots and white pepper.
The cooking here isn’t fancy or complex stuff, but it’s fun, tasty and yours for fast food prices. We couldn't expect it to live up to the thrill of walking through Taiwan’s night markets and seeing crispy scallion pancakes swiped fresh off the griddle – perhaps the truest value of Bao Dao might lie in encouraging you to buy a plane ticket and see the wondrous real thing for yourself.
|Venue name:||Bao Dao|
Shop 8, 376 Victoria Ave
|Opening hours:||Sun-Wed 11am-9pm; Thu-Sat 11am-9.30pm|