There is no room for shyness in China, not in restaurants anyway.
With so many people to feed and restaurants often pokey and packed with just a handful of tables, you can forget about privacy: You’re going to have to budge up, squeeze in and share a table with complete strangers if you want to eat.
As a tourist, it can be overwhelming at first, but give it a few days and you’ll not only be used to it, but may come to enjoy the communal eating experience, even if you and your fellow diners don’t share a common language.
It was in Shanghai earlier this year that I first fell in love with this style of eating – and with Chinese bao, a thing of such simplistic beauty and elegance.
Ever since trying authentic bao, it has become something of an obsession for my wife and me. When we returned to the UAE, we were desperate to find somewhere, anywhere, that could serve up steamed dumplings like those we’d become accustomed to. Enter Dragon Bao Bao.
Having seen pictures pop up on Instagram, it looked from the outset to be the real deal. The restaurant itself, which has only five tables, is cosy and understated, not unlike those in China. It’s not cliché either: the decor consists of a single, small ornament on the wall, the only indication that we are in a Chinese restaurant. Clearly, the food is the main attraction.
Made expertly by hand and steamed, they take time to arrive at the table, but when they do, it’s love at first sight. The soft, pillowy dough gives way to a meaty filling – we opt for the beef, with meat juices adding depth of flavour, and a chicken and shrimp version, stuffed with a surf and turf medley that’s wonderfully soft and salty. Both pair well with the accompanying sweet plum sauce.
It’s not all about the bao though: the braised beef noodles, which are also made in house, are top notch. The noodles are perfection, the beef is soft and succulent and the rich broth is light though a little oily.
Need to know:
Location: Dragon Bao Bao, next to National Cinema, Al Markaziyah
We say: Great value, authentic Chinese food
Cost: AED 72 for two
Opening times: Daily 10am-10pm
Contact: 02 674 2235, facebook.com/dragonbaobaocafeteria4u
WORDS Colin Armstrong