When you think about it, the beloved gua bao, or Taiwanese pork belly steamed bun, might as well be the Asian cousin to the taco.
But as much as I love tacos, there are cravings that only a steamed bun can satisfy. Those cravings need the combination of tender, juicy, meaty and fatty pork belly, minced scallions, cilantro and other shredded veggies that bring a wave of happiness.
Fortunately, just north of downtown are some of the city’s best, at Ming’s Noodle Bar. There, chef and co-owner Ming Qian offers amazing steamed buns and a customizable array of hot and cold noodle dishes. She’s from Beijing and her husband, Hinnerk von Bargen, is a professor at the Culinary Institute of America-San Antonio. Together, they transform a former railroad car into an amazing dining experience.
The steamed buns offer other filings besides the house-cured and smoked pork belly, such as the pulled pork with 5-spice and some other goodies, marinated chicken and a few vegetarian options.
And the noodles themselves are wonderful. My favorite, the Spicy Sichuan noodles, are a cold dish of egg noodles with a generous topping of chile oil and shredded vegetables, minced herbs with a sesame dressing. The contrasts of flavors and textures are succeed brilliantly.
Among the noodles with broth options, I’d lean slightly toward the spicy coconut noodles, with rice noodles in a red curry coconut broth. That’s not so slight any of the other dishes. Truthfully, the only reason why I order one instead of another is more about a mood.
The shop offers some Asian beers and local craft brews, along with Mexican Coke, Topo Chico and some other bottled beverages, so it’s easy to come in and enjoy a fun meal. Or get an order to go and pop open your own libation of your choice and let the flavors wash over you as you relax at home.