TAIPEI – A cloud escapes into the air as 80-year-old Taiwanese street food vendor Wu Huang-yi lifts the lid on a giant steaming basket to unveil a piping hot batch of two dozen buns.
It is lunchtime at Taipei’s Huaxi Night Market – the capital’s oldest – and a queue has already formed at Wu’s stall, with diners eager to taste the pork belly whose aroma wafts from a steel pot bubbling in the cramped kitchen.
Wu, a self-taught chef, perfected his meat marinade more than 20 years ago. He still goes to the market at 5am every day to handpick the pork belly, which he stews for hours in a special blend of ingredients.
“My gua bao (buns) are different from others. They’re all handmade. They’re tasty because they are so soft and yet chewy,” he says.
“Everything is done according to tradition and that’s why the buns taste good.”
Also known in Taiwanese as hor ga ter (tiger bites pig), the gua bao is a circular flat steamed bun, which is folded in half and stuffed with braised meat, coriander, salted vegetable and ground peanuts.
Its shape resembles the ancient Chinese boat-shaped ingot, so gua bao signifies prosperity and is often served at wedding banquets and corporate functions.
Wu sells his gua bao for less than US$2 (S$2.72) each at his stall, where his whole family, including his wife, three adult children and a grandson help out.
His hard work and dedication have finally paid off – this month he was recognised by Michelin and awarded a place on the food guide’s Bib Gourmand list, which is given to eateries that serve a top-class three-course meal for less than NT$1,000 (S$46.29).
Taiwan – which has a rich local culinary tradition as well as a huge array of cuisines brought to the island by mainland Chinese immigrant communities – now has well over 200 entries on Michelin’s list.