There was a lot of flip-flopping for me last week. You know the feeling where you know your body is tired, probably could use some down time, but your brain is like, “Go, go, go, there’s lots of cool things to do!” That’s me. Almost all the time. Last weekend I had made plans to check out the #kenyaraefoodproject Bao Bun Pop-Up hosted at Dovetail Delicatessen. The the plans got cancelled. Then it was back on again. Then it wasn’t. After my shift at work, I drove past the 124 Street storefront to see if there was any line-up out the door like the last pop-up hosted at Dovetail. There wasn’t. So I made one of those impromptu stops and you know what? The brain is pretty smart and I’m glad I did.
Although she’s in the film industry, that doesn’t stop Kenya Hushagen from cooking her way through various cuisines in her down time. With inspiration from her travels and support from her friends and family (who are also avid travellers and homecooks!), the passion landed her a spot in the top 50 finalists in this year’s Masterchef Canada. She didn’t win it, but of course that wouldn’t stop Kenya from doing what she loves.
Working on Edmonton’s most beloved food trucks, Drift and the storefront Dovetail Delicatessen definitely goes a long way and experimentation with homemade bao buns finally came to public through her first pop-up. Despite no visible line-ups out the door, there was a consistent one inside! Definitely a friends and family affair, the team was pushing through three kinds of baos at a pretty decent speed.
Over 600 Chinese buns were made and sold out by 7:30pm. They were steamed the traditional way, split and then assembled by Kenya herself. For $15, you had a choice between a five spice-braised pork belly, a bulgogi marinated beef chuck, and a roasted mixed mushroom for the veggie lovers. The atmosphere was buzzing at the pop-up with most people ordering and staying to eat. While I was waiting to order, a few were in front of me already re-ordering their next set of baos to go. That’s always a good sign! Diners looked like they were really enjoying themselves. I ordered one of each to quickly take home to share with Joe.
Let me first say that I absolutely love bao buns. They’re traditionally filled with various toppings and wrapped up into a bun. It’s common now to see food trucks or even shops steam the dough first and then fill it to make a taco-shaped package. Nothing wrong there, so long as it tastes good! The dough itself varies within regions and cultures, my favourite still being the Vietnamese bao, the dough being slightly sweeter and light and filled with seasoned ground pork. Kenya’s dough was impressive, pillow-y soft and smooth.
My favourite was the five-spiced braised pork belly topped with candied peanuts, lemongrass pickles, hoisin, Sriracha and cilantro. Totally forgot that Joe was allergic to peanuts (…I’m so horrible) so it was nice to have the bun all to myself. Loved the lemongrass pickles to cut through the sweetness of the hoisin and candied peanuts!
The roasted mixed mushrooms were my next favourite, who doesn’t like umami? Miso mayo, pickled red cabbage, crisp fried onions and chives continued to give Kenya’s bao buns a nice well rounded and balanced flavour profile.
The bulgogi marinated beef chuck was my least favourite although I know that it’s just my personal preference. I’m learning to enjoy mustards more but I’m not quite there! Hot mustard, pickled radish, scallions and toasted sesame toppings didn’t bother Joe though and he nearly ate the whole thing before I even got a bite!
Assorted sides also came with the combined order, an added bonus. Absolutely loved the pickled cucumbers and the quick kimchi was my favourite, addictively fermented with just the right amount of heat. The pickled watermelon rinds were a first for me, loved the crunch!
I can thank my brain’s repetitive nature of “you need to do this, you need to eat this” for getting me through the door. Loved the bao buns and can’t wait for Kenya’s next pop-up or project! It will be interesting to see where this will take her! Congratulations to the #kenyaraefoodproject, follow the hashtag on social media to see what she’s cooking up! I don’t usually directly quote Joe but, “You know what comes out of pop-ups? Restaurants. Food trucks. BAO FOOD TRUCK.” Well said Joe, well said.The Kenya Rae Food Project