Thursday, January 26, 2012

The best siopao in Tokyo



Perhaps because we just finished Chinese New Year, but yesterday I went to the old and very traditional area of Kagurazaka, home to some of the finest Japanese restaurants in the country, to buy a couple of siopao. Yes, I know it sounds very strange to venture all the way across town to a neighborhood full of ryotei (traditional Japanese restaurants serving kaiseki meals) and then to buy a Chinese snack food.

NOT YOUR TYPICAL SIOPAO PLACE

But Gojuban is no ordinary Chinese siopao place. It's been doing business and selling the very same siopao in the exact same location since Showa 32, which in Western years means 1957. That should give you an idea of just how good it is, for it to have been in business for so long.

That's the siopao kitchen of Gojuban

They have at least 18 different kinds of siopao here as well, so you're spoiled for choice and there's no excuse for getting tired of eating siopao as you can literally have a different one for every meal and even for dessert.

These are just some of the siopao I saw yesterday when I visited. And, yes, I did buy siopao here but I also ate at the very highly-rated ryotei next door whose chef used to work at one of Japan's very few Michelin three-star ryotei. I like these kinds of places more than the actual Michelin-starred ones sometimes, especially in Japan where the language and cultural barriers mean that so many very good restaurants slip the Michelin radar. And less hype means more value for money and easier tables to book. But that's another story.

Those are cases of siopao waiting to be heated and served.

18 DIFFERENT TYPES OF SIOPAO

Back to my siopao yesterday first.

The standard siopao that Gojuban has been selling for over 50 years is the regular nikuman, which is basically a meat siopao. It's a mixture of meat and vegetables.

Nikuman

Then they have an original siopao called the Gomokuman, which is Gojuban's most famous siopao and its bestseller. It's stuffed with all sorts of good things including seafood, vegetables and an egg.

Gomokukan

Another bestselling original siopao is the agoo pork siopao. Hope I'm getting the spelling in English right as I'm translating from Japanese here. But this siopao is made with Okinawa's famous Agoo pork and it's also got peanuts inside. The store is very proud of this siopao.


SIOPAO MADE WITH BLACK PORK

My own favorite is the kurobuta siopao which is made with a mixture of black pork from Kagoshima and vegetables, and everything is mixed with black sesame for a very refined taste.

Kurobuta man

They also have another kind of siopao made with black pork from Kagoshima, but this time they use black pork alone without any combination of vegetables and black sesame. This one is highly recommended as well. It reminds me of the xiao long bao with its rich soupy sauce trapped inside, oozing out of the siopao when you bite it.

SWEET SIOPAO

Anman

Another popular siopao, although not personally my favorite, is the anman siopao which is basically a sweet siopao which uses red bean paste with sesame oil to bring out the rich sweetness.

The serious business of bringing maiko to Japan
for TRAVELIFE Japan Night at the Dusit Thani of Feb 16.
Japan Airlines (JAL) is flying the maiko over,
and two seats have been reserved separately for their maiko headpieces alone.

A SCALLOP SIOPAO

Kaibashira nikuman

Then there's a siopao called kaibashira nikuman, full of tender scallops that reminds you of the sea when you take a bite out of it.


SHRIMPS & CHILI GO TOGETHER


Ebi chili man

And the ebi chili siopao which is very representative of Chinese food, and it's another original of Gojuban. Basically shrimps in chili sauce are used as siopao filling.

Pirikara nikuman

There's also an addictive pirikara nikuman, which is flavored with lots of spices. And, if you're still into spices after this, there's always the Korean-inspired kimchi nikuman, which of course is full of kimchi.

Kimchi nikuman

NOTHING BUT VEGETABLES

Yasai man

And the yasai nikuman, which is the healthy option, made only with vegetables; and the matsutake nikuman, which uses Japan's famous matsutake mushrooms mixed with pork and shredded bamboo shoots.

Matsutake nikuman

They also have the mozzarella man, which is a siopao filled with mozzarella cheese and pizza sauce; and the custard man, which uses a Chinese-style cream custard fillling for an addictive dessert.

Custard man

And what did I buy, you might be asking. I bought the regular nikuman, as well as the black pork nikuman. And for lunch today, I've just had the black pork nikuman and it was absolutely delicious.

KAGURAZAKA GOJUBAN HONTEN
Kagurazaka 3-2, Shinjuku-ku, Tokyo
Tel (03) 3260-0066

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