Bao Bae takes Karachi by storm and surprise, as it drives in as a unique and commendable option for quick dining.
The concept of food trucks hit the US in a massive way in the last two decades, but in Pakistan it is yet to carve its niche as an alternative for the restaurant-driven foodie who is still in love with the idea of oft-overpriced cuisine in cramped spaces. However, winds of change seem to finally be hitting Karachi, where the success of Bao Bae seems to be chiming in a new gastronomical era.
Situated on an empty plot on the junction of Khayaban-e-Sehar and 26th Street in Karachi’s posh Defence Housing Authority locale, Bao Bae is hard to miss. The food truck’s black and white facade and its rather interesting curvature makes it something you’d want to check out. If that still makes it hard to spot, a line that spans two empty plots on a normal day would be enough to work as a marker for even the weakest of observers.
The no-frills but full on taste concept of Bao Bae is the brainchild of a team that also brings Pakistan ‘The Eat Festivals’, in major cities. Its hype starts from the moment you stand in line, which may take anywhere from five minutes to upwards of an hour, depending on how busy the truck is. The motto is simple and rather Buddhist in its approach; if you want good karma (in this case, good food), then you wait with patience as all the items on the menu are prepared fresh as there is no substitute to that.
The menu is minimal and focuses on serving its namesake, the mighty new Oriental addition to the realm of burgers, ‘The Bao’ in three variations – the Chicken Karaage Bao, Braised Beef Bao and the Crispy Prawn Bao. The Baos come along with two sets of stir-fried Udon noodles, that are touted for being hand-cut – the Black Pepper Tamarind Sauce Udon and the Bao Bae Signature Udon.
Playing with pan-Asian flavours while also trying to keep themselves at par or above the competition, the taste of each of these items stands out due to ingredients that are unique to every variation. The Chicken Karaage Bao, for example, goes towards the umami factor and is inspired by Japanese flavours. The Braised Beef is an homage to Thai style cuisine with its freehanded use of peanuts, and the Crispy Prawn Bao is more of an international amalgamation, with ingredients like chill rock salt making it pop.
The hand-cut Udon noodles share a similarly when it comes to having amusing taste profiles. The Black Pepper Udon, which stands out in the menu, uses tamarind to create a base which perfectly complements the peppery heat infused in the noodles. The Bao Bae Signature Udon too follows the same ideology and packs a punch of flavor with its umami and sweet dichotomy. For both the Udon options, the winning factor remains the fact that they are created to be a no-fuss meal, with a focus on the taste rather than just how ‘pretty’ they look – a problem we face in the ever-Instagrammable age.
The Udon noodles also offer another interesting option to the mix, where it follows the idea of selecting your own protein for both the options. There’s a selection of chicken, beef, and prawn, making this an easy choice for anyone looking to try out different tastes on different days.
Winning where most restaurants falter, what makes Bao Bae sell like hot cakes – in this case, Bao’s – is the price factor. Keeping it lower than the current market rates seems to have been a triumphant formula. No item on the menu goes above PKR 650, making this an easy on the pocket meal that won’t leave you hungry after devouring it. There’s a lot for the money they are charging and there’s absolutely no one in the world who wouldn’t want a bang for their buck.
There’s a lot that could have gone wrong with the concept of being the sole famous food truck in Karachi, but as of now, Bao Bae has done everything right. The price is great, the tastes are brilliant and the people are lining up like bees in abundance. If the concept continues to work like it does today, and retains its identity with a minimal but quality-centric ethos, there’s nothing stopping this BAE from being your true Before Anyone Else.