Every April, restaurants and food manufacturers race to create Easter-themed products that capitalise on the holiday. Steak restaurants will serve a steak … but topped with an egg. A high-end bar introduces a cocktail with a wreath of edible flowers in the shape of a thorn crown, dubbing it the Tequila Sun (He) Rises. Someone’s made a hot cross bun into some sort of shape that is different from a normal hot cross bun shape. Now please give them all your lovely Easter money.
The cynic socialist in me wants you to know that this is just capitalism, generating more stuff to sell that isn't worth your time. Easter isn’t even a real celebration unless you’re religious, which barely half of the UK population is. I can’t remember if Jesus rose or died or was born on this one, or if it was one of the other Maundy/Ashy days.
But then, just when I thought we had reached peak pointless Easter food, something came to my attention. Something I couldn’t ignore. Something like, a bao made to look like a chick and filled ……… with the flesh of a chicken.
This Easter, London Taiwanese restaurant BAO has created a fried chicken chick bun specially for the Easter weekend. The bun, dyed with yellow colouring, is adorned with a red beak and gill, and two eyes. Inside is a fried chicken nugget, Szechuan mayo, slices of onion and iceberg lettuce, and BAO hot sauce. This plump little fellow is not only something that I feel an emotional attachment to (strange), but its body is literally the body of a chicken. It’s a chick, filled with chicken. Bar the feathers and previous history of being sentient, it is strangely authentic.
“With Easter coming up, we thought it would be fun to do a chick bao,” Erchen Chang, head chef and co-founder of BAO, tells me over email. “Having the bakery in house allows us to develop bao and be creative. We’ve actually always been doing bao for fun that we don’t serve. If we have leftover dough, the bakers do some cool bao with it.”
Captivated by my new bao children, I travel to BAO to witness the creation of these tiny chicken squish balls. The process is as adorable as you’d expect. Almost in silence, the chefs in the bakery above BAO’s Fitzrovia site cup and roll the soft bao dough into a bun shape, while others pinch red dough into beaks. Next, head baker Keegan Chen assembles the chick face, carefully wetting the dough to affix the features. Finally, the bao is proved for 15 minutes and steamed for 15 minutes, before being filled with its deep fried flesh. Cute!!!!!
“[The chick bao] take precision and time,” explains Chang. “Also, when they steam, they prove and form different shapes, so every stage has to be controlled and the proving needs to be factored in. We also use a very wet dough, so it takes the right handling”
Irrespective of the mastery behind them, the fundamental worth of the bao chick lies in how much I want to keep it as a pet. What is it about the bao that makes it so cute? The soft, doughy skin? The tender rotund shape? The fact that it looks like a chubby hamster mixed with a baby human? I want to both cuddle and consume this squishy bundle of joy, a feeling that confuses and hungers me in equal measure.
“Most of our food is aimed to be playful and the aesthetics can tend to be quite cute,” Chang tells me, confirming my love. “They are the perfect size to be cute. They are also pillowy, fluffy, plump—even the words to describe it are cute.”
I stan these plump bӧis. What a way to celebrate Jesus’ birthday.