doing adulthood one mess at a time

I Tried It: Trader Joe’s Cha Siu Bao Review

TJ's Bao Photo

I am currently a poor part-time student with a part-time job. I am soon to be a poor full-time grad student with no job. Anything that keeps me from spending extra money — be it on junk that I don’t need, junk that doesn’t work, or takeout (a very serious personal weakness) — is both necessary and appreciated. Since I am absolutely addicted to reading others’ reviews of items I am thinking of buying, I figured that I would put my own two cents in here to benefit you, dear reader. Please find below the first in a series of occasional reviews of things that I purchased and tried. Here’s to trying to assuage our #poormillennialproblems.

TJ's Bao Photo

My first thought upon removing the cooked Trader Joe’s Cha Siu Bao from my steamer basket was that on the outside these *looked* roughly as good as the ones from my favorite Chinese dumpling provider. Upon taking a bite, I found these to be fluffy, warm, and very satisfying. The pork filling is sweet (and tasty) but less acidic/spicy than my favorite delivery place. Nonetheless, I WILL TAKE IT. The bao are very pillowy when you bite into them and the dumpling dough has a very pleasant sweetness to it. The filling is a slightly grayer color than my usual delivery dumplings but that is not necessarily a flaw – probably just a function of different seasoning. I found the pork to have a nice, meaty flavor that smells slightly more peppery than it tastes. Three or four of these are actually a really satisfying meal for one person.

To accompany these, I made a very serviceable dipping sauce from soy sauce, mirin, rice vinegar, and honey that I found in my cabinets. SUPER TASTY. The next time I make it, I will figure out the approximate measurements and post a recipe.

TJ's Bao Filling Photo

Ease of prep: Easy!
If you’re steaming these, they are SUPER easy. Like boiling water easy. And it takes under 10 minutes, entirely unattended. I also appreciate the parchment squares on the bottom of each dumpling. When I steam dumplings, I usually have to cut myself a parchment liner for the steamer basket so that all my dumplings are not destroyed when I remove them. The attached parchment obviated the need for this.

I tried microwaving the bao per the directions on the package and it. Was. A Disaster. I heated the dumplings for 1 minute, covered with a damp paper towel – this was 15 seconds longer than the package directions instructed. Dear reader, the dumpling filling was still frozen when I removed them from the microwave. (To those wondering: I actually have a very high-powered microwave, so this was surprising.) I microwaved the bao for another minute (still covered with a damp paper towel) and had okay results. The microwave method resulted in a tougher, less-pillowy outer dumpling skin. I would still recommend steaming (on the stove) if you can.

TJ's Bao Package Photo

Value: Good!
These are $2.99 for 4 at my local Trader Joe’s. This is the price of one bao at my local favorite Chinese place. And I did not have to wait for or tip a delivery driver.

Taste: Good!
Comparable to delivery, which is way better than expected.

Overall: 8/10
There are no really good bao places in my current neighborhood (I get my favorite delivery bao when I’m at work), so the discovery that I can buy such a solid substitute at Trader Joe’s is a game changer. I plan to purchase these and keep them stocked in my freezer for as long as Trader Joe’s chooses to sell them. They are a solid fast + tasty option on nights that I would otherwise opt for takeout.

And, because taking it from (just) me is always a questionable way to live your life, here are some other thoughts on Trader Joe’s Cha Siu Bao from around the internet:
The Fearless Flyer
GrubPug
8Asians
Mantou Joe

Have you tried these? What did you think? Slash do you have any other awesome takeout-replacement foods? Let me know in the comments!

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