Who needs a hamburger when you’ve got a gua bao?

I had been aware of the Taiwanese sandwich known as a “gua bao” for a while before even landing in the country, so as soon as I got the chance to try out this delicacy I didn’t hesitate. After all, the gua bao pre-dates the American hamburger by centuries. Lan Jia Gua Bao is arguably the best place in Taipei to get the sandwiches, and I headed straight there after a wet morning of sightseeing at Chiang Kai-Shek Memorial Hall.

Looking back the main archways
Looking back the main archways

The Chiang Kai-shek Memorial Hall is a Taiwanese national monument that was erected in memory of Chiang Kai-shek, who is former Chinese President. It is located in Zhongzheng District of Taipei, pretty close to other tourist attractions and markets, and is a good addition to your Taipei itinerary.

The little-seen rear of Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
The little-seen rear of Chiang Kai Shek Memorial Hall
The changing of the guard ceremony was taking place inside
The changing of the guard ceremony was taking place inside

The first thing anyone will notice about this Memorial Hall is its octagonal blue roof, a shape that picks up the symbolism of the number eight (this number is traditionally associated in China with good luck). Two sets of white stairs, each with 89 steps to represent Chiang’s age at the time of his death, lead to the main entrance. The ground level of the memorial houses a library and museum documenting Chiang Kai-shek’s life and career and exhibits related to Taiwan’s history and development. The upper level contains the main hall, in which a large seated statue of Chiang Kai-shek is located, and where a ceremonial procession with national guards takes place at various times during the day. By now, I was beginning to enjoy learning of the history (despite dreaming of some Taiwanese street food).

Lan Jia Gua Bao in Gongguan, Taipei
Lan Jia Gua Bao in Gongguan, Taipei

On the way back to my hotel in Da’an, I stopped off in Gongguan district and treated myself to some gua bao from Lan Jia Gua Bao. This family-run outfit were one of two gua bao vendors that I wanted to check out, although I didn’t manage to find the other (Gongguan Gua Bao). The queue for Lan Jia was stupid; I think I stood there in miserable weather for around 15 minutes before I placed my order. Still, all good things come to those who wait, and in Taiwan you know if there’s a queue then it must be good!

The white fluffy buns have been steamed to give them their unique texture. In fact, the gua bao also has a unique nickname in Taiwan: “Tiger Bites Pig”! This is because the steamed bun looks like a tiger’s mouth, whereas it is “biting” the pork (a common filling) inside its mouth!

Gua Bao
Gua Bao

What else goes in a gua bao, you may ask? Well, the usual fillings are pork belly and fried chicken, but mushroom or seafood versions are readily available, too, if you know where to look. That said, you had better enjoy your pork belly, because Taiwanese people LOVE IT (in a gua bao or not), and while you may get a sprinkling of green leaves/salad to accompany your pork belly, you had better bet your bottom New Dollar that the pork belly itself will take up 98% of the filling – and I think that’s what makes the gua bao so popular. Learn how to make your own Gua Bao with this step-by-step guide and recipe.

This was the first time I had any traditional gua bao from Taiwan and it certainly wouldn’t be the last! A nice morning checking out an important memorial in Taipei and then a great lunchtime trying some delectable Taiwanese street food! I bet Chiang Kai-Shek would have approved!

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