Footscray’s best buns

One of the great things about writing a foodblog is it can justify some pretty insane eating activities, like doing a ramen crawl around the city, or blind testing mince pies and banh mi.

Recently, I decided it might be time to embark on another (slightly ridiculous) experiment: it was time to find the best BBQ pork buns in Footscray. Now I should just clarify here that when I talk about BBQ pork buns, I’m talking about the Chinese char siu bao – you know, the fluffy white buns filled with sweet and salty red pork filling that you get at yum cha – and not the Vietnamese style grilled pork banh mi rolls.

This came about when I was looking over the search terms for the blog. Someone had searched for “Footscray pork buns”, which in hindsight was probably referring to banh mi, but it got me thinking that with the number of local yum cha and bakery joints in Footscray where you can get a quick char siu bao fix, it was about time I found out which one was the best.

It would be a pretty tricky thing to try to ascertain on your own, but with a bunch of eager bun-eating friends, it’s not so arduous (yeah OK, arduous is a bit of a stretch). So six of us gathered at Lauren‘s place, and between us we amassed between us an array of pork buns from eight different sources.

imageFor those of you playing at home, yes, there were a few frozen and refrigerated buns from local Asian grocers, as well as a pack of buns from Costco! Docklands is right next to Footscray, so I figured it would be OK to include them…

imageThe clearly-not-char-siu-bao yellow buns in the mix are some lau sa bao (flowing sand buns) from Yummie Yum Cha, which I brought along because the others hadn’t tried them before. They’re filled with an egg custard which is made using the yolk of salted eggs. If you haven’t tried them before, do yourself a favour next time you’re at yum cha. Not all places have them, but Gold Leaf and Shark Fin outlets usually do.

imageAfter some convoluted randomising and cross-marking of the buns, the first batch of buns went into the steamer.

imageTen minutes later, the gorging taste-testng began. On average, we had half a bun of each variant tested, though there were a few buns which were bigger than others, so some cleaver action was necessary. We decided on three criteria against which we would judge each bun.

First, the dough, or bun, itself. It should be light and fluffy,a little sweet, and my personal preference is to be able to peel the thin skin away from the outside of the bun. It’s a childhood habit playing with my food that I never gave up.

Next, the filling. The flavour of the pork should be present, along with a balanced sweet and savoury sauce.

Finally, we judged the overall balance between the two elements. A bun that’s all bread and no pork is no fun; but similarly a bun with too much filling will feel a little too sickly rich and heavy.

imageOne of the better buns: check out the fluffy white bun, and the solid chunks of pork filling.

imageAnd one of the day’s less impressive specimens: a heavy, doughy bun, and overly sweet filling. The atomic red hue of the filling was a little alarming, too!

imageSo without further ado, here are my final results. I should note that we weren’t all unanimous in our scores, but 5 out of 6 agreed that the buns from Master Restaurant were our favourites, and the foul, offensive vegetarian ‘BBQ pork’ buns from the Vincent vegetarian Asian grocer were voted unanimously the worst buns of the day.

Cost per bun Bun (dough) Filling Ratio Total
Yummie Yum Cha $1.20 7 5 7 19
Seng Hork (from Asian grocer) $0.93 6 7 7 20
Victoria Bakehouse $1.60 6 5 4 15
To’s Bakery $3.00 4 3 5 12
Master Restaurant $2.00 8 7 7 22
Sun Wong Kee in Little Saigon $1.80 7 6 7 20
Yum Cha at Home (from Costco) $0.95 5 6 6 17
Vegetarian BBQ Pork Buns from Vincent Vegetarian Grocer $0.94 5 1 6 12

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Master Restaurant

Shop184/ 83 Hopkins St, Footscray
Phone: 9689 8796

When I was a kid, I’d come to Melbourne in the school holidays, and stay with my cousins. I’d hang out at comic stores, and go to the movies, and play games at Timezone. I remember one holiday, when I was about 10, my cousin and I spent all day at Timezone playing the skill tester machines. It seems our skills were pretty good, because we came home with a big bag full of stuffed toys. Which, to be honest, we didn’t really want, we just wanted to test our skill with the claw.

My nanna also lives with my cousin’s family, so when I’d come down to Melbourne, occasionally there was the odd situation where I wouldn’t be hanging out with my cousins, and I would go out with her instead. Usually we’d go to Victoria St, because it was a short tram ride away, and she’d buy groceries. And we’d stop in at a restaurant, and have duck noodle soup. I’m not sure, because to be honest, I’ve never really asked her, but I think it might be her favourite.

So whenever I have duck noodle soup, I feel an affinity with my nanna, and it’s definitely one of my favourite meals to have, especially when I’m on my own. Maybe because it always reminds me of her, and I don’t feel so alone while I’m eating? Oh gee, let’s not get into my neuroses.

Anyway, I was out at Footscray Market the other week, shopping for groceries, and on my way home, was lured in by the beautifully mahogany brown roast ducks hanging in the window. It was a Saturday afternoon, so most of the people were sitting down to yum cha, but yum cha for one isn’t much fun, and besides, I was after only one thing.

The duck I had that day was exceedingly plump, yet lean. The meat had a rich, almost musky gaminess to it. It was let down a little by a lack of fat, and the fact the skin was paper thin, yet not crispy. I think they’d rendered too much of the fat away. Or it was just a star athlete duck! Also not helping the cause was the fact that the duck was lukewarm, but a little patience, letting it sit in the piping hot broth, soon fixed that.

Not having tried any other roast ducks in the area (notably Golden Harvest, Hong Kong BBQ, and the stand in Little Saigon market) I’m not sure how Master stacks up. But I have a feeling there is better duck to be had.

Master Restaurant on Urbanspoon