The Bao Buns at Mifan

It’s only mid-March and already “Sleeping Beauty” Bordeaux seems to be waking from her winter slumber, shaking off confinement, curfew and coronavirus like a bad dream. Despite 3 million currently infected in France and an excruciatingly slow start to the vaccine rollout, a 20°C sunny day will send hordes of Bordelais out to the Garonne to sip beer and smoke cigarettes, blissfully mask-less in one giant cluster. It’s not ideal, though I also understand it as a rebellion against the completely asinine regulations we’ve been forced to live with since October. A 6pm curfew? Why? A very official signed and dated lie from work stating that I’m an essential employee who simply cannot work from home? Seriously, why? None of it is enforced anyway, so the only effect of all this is feeling judged for and generally uneasy about leaving your house for anything these days. The curfew also makes it so that lunch is the new dinner, the exotic meal prepared by hands other than yours. I’ve made it a point to eat out and try new restaurants as often as I can, not just to help support these local businesses, but also to keep my own morale up by having something new to look forward to these days.

I had been looking forward to trying out MIFAN for a while now and I finally got around to it this past week. Owned by Chinese-Cambodian chef Alexandre and tucked away on shadowy Rue Huguerie, this place offers a fusion Asian menu, including Cambodian, Vietnamese, Thai and Southern Chinese specialties. Appetizers are crunchy spring rolls with a variety of fillings or meaty samosas. Noodles include Cha Mi (from the Philippines), Bo Bun (Vietnamese), Lort Cha (Cambodian) and Pad Thai. The rice dishes are just as international. And I’ll have to go back to try some of these, along with the sizzling king prawn “Pokahngand on Fire” and their Honey Duck. But for my first bite of the place, I chose their bao buns, one each of the Crispy Bao (with chicken) and Tempura Bao (with shrimp). I called ahead and my food was ready for pick-up in 20 minutes, service with a genuine smile from a very buff guy who may or may not have been Alexandre.

I had my very first steamed bao in Hong Kong back in 2012. It was a classic bao, a cha siu bao, filled with a heavenly, juicy barbecued pork and I had it as dimsum for lunch at The Grand Stage with my dad, the first time he came to visit me there. After that first exposure, I’d choose it whenever it was around and I never got over that texture: puffy and doughy yet dry, sticky on the surface yet easy to eat, very slightly sweet. Excellent when stuffed and served as a dumpling, even better when replacing a tortilla in a kind of taco. The latter is what bao means at MIFAN, a doughy shell to hold a delicious fried ingredient, some fresh veg and sauce.

MIFAN’s take-out bao come neatly wrapped in wax paper in a nice paper box with the restaurant’s signature deep blue napkins lain over the top. The first one I tried was the Tempura Bao, stuffed with panko-crusted and fried shrimp, pickled shreds of carrot and white radish, lettuce, fried onions and a piquant satay mayo. The shrimp is perfectly juicy and plump inside its grainy, crunchy coat, not overly greasy nor too dry, hydrated by the spicy, slightly nutty mayo. The veg adds a nice bit of color while the heaps of fried O’s, generously sprinkled over the top, adds extra crunch and intrigue. These crunchy ingredients contrast nicely with the fluffy, fresh steamed bun, whose creases trap extra bits of mayo, resulting in pockets of flavor throughout. Fresh coriander adds a soapy, clean flavor to the symphony. 

The Crispy Bao contains the same ingredients except for the protein, which is tempura-fried white meat chicken. A more substantial protein than the shrimp, though not heavy in the least, the chicken is pounded thin before deep-frying so it’s evenly cooked and crunchy throughout. It’s not dry, though dryer than the shrimp, so the lubrication from the sauce is much appreciated here. Officially my favorite version of the “fried chicken sandwich” that is so rare to find (outside of fast-food) in Bordeaux. 

A lovely lunch and first experience with MIFAN, a restaurant where I will surely become a regular. Though closed for on-site dining for the moment (hopefully not for long), I did take a peek at the dining room at the pick-up and saw a tastefully designed space with comfortable booths and a bar that usually offers cheeky cocktails with curacao, yuzu syrup and sake. From what I can tell, the place is relatively new, so chapeau to them for surviving these challenging times so far. I hope they stay around until things go back to (relatively) normal.

Update: Since this meal back in February, we have already ordered several times from MIFAN. Their pad thai is sublime, a jungle of delicious ingredients in a wide array of textures, flavored with savory-sweet tamarind and nuoc mam sauces. Their Bo Bun is also great, with its juicy beef in brown sauce spread over thin, springy rice noodle, crunchy fried onions and toasted peanuts sprinkled over the top. Their fragrant lemongrass pork samosas are golden-brown triangles fried to a perfect crunch, lulling the palate with delicate leek and curry flavors. My favorite, however, is their pork spring roll with tender ribbons of black mushroom running through the vermicelli. As expected from my very first bite of those bao buns, I’ve quickly become a regular at Mifan.

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