Lucy Ayres' addiction to a Taiwanese street food stall in Melbourne inspired her to bring the phenomenon home to Christchurch. It's proving no less popular here, as Johanna McCord discovers...
If any bread-based item threatens to bring the voluntarily gluten free movement to its knees, it is the bao. A bao (or baozi) is the Taiwanese equivalent of a burger bun or sandwich bread. It's a fluffy steamed bun that can be filled with any combination of delicious ingredients.
BAOdown is a recent addition to the enviable street food offerings in Christchurch, providing 'a modern take on the Taiwanese classic'. Owner Lucy Ayres brought bao to Christchurch in late 2014, on her return from five years in Melbourne where she completed her official chef training after nine years as a cook.
Working and eating in Melbourne provided ample inspiration to start her own business but she claims she lacked the bravery to go through with it. This changed when she returned to Christchurch, where she decided the time was right to turn her religious visits to a food truck at the People’s Market every Sunday morning for bao into the business she had long dreamed of starting.
A burgeoning community of food entrepreneurs and the transitional landscape of Christchurch presented the opportunity and nudge required for Lucy to establish her own venture BAOdown at the local farmer’s market; “I felt a need to bring a bit of joy through food and offer Christchurch something they have never seen before…. BAO. I can now truly sell something I am obsessed with and share my love for it with everyone else.”
Cantabrians quickly got a taste for the quite frankly crazy delicious fluffy buns and BAOdown now has a regular spot at The Colombo mall and can be found popping up at various events round the city. A bao will set you back a quite reasonable $8 (they are deceptively filling) and their lineup includes the following staples alongside a changing menu of specials:
Porky Bao (braised pork shoulder, picked carrot, coriander, hoisin sauce and chopped peanuts)
Chook Chook Bao (poached chicken, pickled cucumber and red onion, coriander, hot sauce and japanese mayo)
Mr Miso (crispy miso fried tofu picked cucumber and red onion shallots and coriander)
The name? Clearly witty as well as a talented chef, BAOdown is a play on words, referencing the Beyonce song Bow Down. Lucy explains “Bao translates to bun or little treasure so I just added a level of fun to it as that is what BAOdown is all about, having an experience, letting go of a serious eating atmosphere and enjoying fresh quality food.”
On top of running BaoDOWN, Lucy also works part time at legendary cafe C1 working closely with owner Sam Crofskey, veteran and visionary of the local hospitality scene, who she credits with teaching her a huge amount about the industry and being an entrepreneur.
Given the near obsession anyone who has already found BaoDOWN experiences, safe to say the future looks rosy. When asked for any sneak peeks, Lucy lets us in on what's on the drawing board for the future; “well at the moment we operate out of an outdoor setup so lets just say we are working towards something that has four walls.”