Asian street food on one of Barcelona’s up and coming foodie streets
The unshowy barrio of Sants goes largely unnoticed by most foodies and travellers. Apart from the train station and the obvious draw of the MNAC museum and “Magic Fountain” there’s little to tempt you to this workaday little nook of the city. At least that’s what most people think. But anyone who’s found themselves exploring the many excellent bars and tapas joints in the sun-drenched Placa Oscar will have noticed that the area is clearly at tipping point, edging slowly but surely its way to hipsterdom. But it’s a nice rendition of hipsterness. Sants’ characteristic homely local vibes keeps any new openings in check, ensuring prices are kept low and that things don’t get too pretentious.
But though Placa Oscar continues to act as the beating heart of the local scene, there’s one artery leading off it that has blossomed into one of the hottest gastro streets in Barcelona. The small side street of Carrer Riego is now brimming with trendy little craft beer bars and tapas restaurants. And marking its transition into full foodie adulthood is the arrival of Bao Bao, a stylish Asian-inspired space specialising in Chinese/Vietnamese bao buns, which are squidgy little steamed bread rolls made of rice flour stuffed with big flavour shredded meats and various exotic ingredients. Cheap, delicious and boasting ancient street-food credentials, this is a bonafide foodie trend if ever there was one.
In fact, this is the second opening from Bao Bao, the first being in located in the Gothic Quarter, just off Plaça Reial. Kudos to owners Fabrizzio Massali and Erlin James for identifying Sants as one of Barcelona’s newest culinary hotspots.
A small terrace invites you to step inside, with a huge wall-graphic portraying a scene from rural Vietnam that helps your mind flip from “tapas mode” to “Asian street food mode”. Chunky little seats and tables made from chopped tree trunks set a relaxed tone. Inside, staff busy around a long cocktail bar and open kitchen, whilst crowds of beautiful young things perch at little wooden tables telling tales of travel and global gastro conquests. Funky light fittings and a vintage Vespa scooter add an element of elegance to what is otherwise a suitably minimalist space.
Priced at just €4 a pop, these fist-sized little beauties are perfect for a quick lunch or a fun and informal dinner with friends. You’ll definitely want more after one, so consider ordering two at a time, or at least accompany your bao with a little bowl of crispy cassava chips.
Classics include the “Bao Confuccio” served with char siu (barbecued pork), pickled carrot, turnip, peanuts and fresh cilantro, and the “Bao Ho Chi Minh”, which is a salute to Vietnam lavished with slow cooked veal, marinated vegetables, cilantro, mint and a garlic mayonnaise.
The “Bao Ulises” offers a sort of Mediterranean take on these distinctly Asian flavours, with calamari, avocado, red onion and a chipotle mayonnaise.
Vegetarians don’t have quite as much choice, although the aptly named “Bao Ghandi” with tofu, grilled eggplant, coconut, hoisin sauce, chopped spring onions and mint is sure to hit the spot.
The extensive array of classic cocktails are equally as delicious and affordable, although personally I think this type of food calls for beer. Luckily they have Vietnamese Saigon beer by the bottle, the perfect companion.
Finish with a “Bao Nutella” for an irresistibly satisfying, even if not entirely authentic, ending to your Asiatic dining experience.
It’s places like Bao Bao that make Barcelona such an exciting and dynamic place to eat. When you’ve had enough tapas or when you simply feel like something a bit different and don’t want to break the bank, this is an excellent option.
By Ben Holbrook http://www.driftwoodjournals.com
Bao Bao SantsCarrer de Riego, 23, 08014 Barcelona, Spain
Area: Sants / Montjuïc
Website: Bao Bao Sants - Barcelona
Opening hours: Tue - Sat 1:30 pm - 4:00 pm, 8:00 pm - 2:00 am, Sunday and Monday Closed
Phone: +34 937 82 34 71
Metro/Bus: Plaça de Sants