There are so many elements of Melbourne that I love. I love its cultural diversity; I love its alleys and laneways that are impossible to navigate, blanketed by street art. Mostly I love that regardless of where or at what time I’m wandering through the CBD, I know I can find something delicious, different and affordable to satisfy my hunger cravings. It’s not really a surprise that Wonderbao fulfils all these loves in one extremely delectable hit.
Wonderbao can be approached from two entrances, both of which are as obscure as the other, and the view from the window is a deserted, cobbled Melbourne laneway. The menu is simple and specialises in what the name suggests: bao. For those who don’t know, bao is a type of Chinese bun filled with various stuffings and steamed in large bamboo steamers. The dough is soft and sweet and the fillings can range from sweet to savoury, meat to veg.
I was feeling particularly hippy, so I decided on the vegetarian options. The choi bao was filled with cabbage, mushrooms and tofu. You watch as the staff pull it straight from the steamer and serve straight to you in a little cardboard tray. You know it’s fresh when you tear open the delicate bun and the fillings are steaming. The Asian flavours of soy, garlic and chilli blend with the shredded veggies. It’s definitely tasty.
Probably the more interesting menu options are the gua bao. Literally meaning “sliced wrapper”, it is considered as the Chinese sandwich but looks more like a mini, thick taco. The fillings of are more intricate and layered. The fried silken tofu sat on a bed of coriander, topped with a thick, sweet soy sauce and crushed peanuts. The wrapper is chewy, the tofu is soft, the peanut is crunchy and the coriander enhances the flavour. It’s a party in your mouth but prepare to get it everywhere in your attempts to fit it in.
The meatlovers of my party informed me that the roast and braised pork belly gua bao options are similar. The meat is exquisitely tender, flavoursome and cuts through the sweetness of the sauce. The Char Siu bao, filled with BBQ pork, was described as the best ever eaten and is probably closest to the classic bao we know and love from local Chinese dumpling houses. However the meat was more tender; the flavour more complex.
They do serve drinks too. The fridge is filled with a selection of Chinese iced teas, but more unique is the homemade soy milk served in a takeaway coffee cup either hot or cold. If you don’t like soymilk, this probably isn’t for you but I’m a huge fan and enjoyed the sweet, nuttiness of the beige coloured brew.
For a great cheap snack or lunch when passing by, Wonderbao is the place to experience some of the Asian culture around Melbourne’s CBD. There is very limited seating, just one small bar with a couple of stools, but if the weather’s nice sit in the alleyways behind the store and take in the street art, just like the local RMIT hipsters.
19-37 A’Beckett St
(03) 9654 7887