Taiwan does braised pork, in all styles and flavors, really well.
One of the most popular Taiwanese dishes that includes braised pork is lu rou fan, braised pork belly, minced up and topped over a bowl of rice.
But another Taiwanese food favorite, that makes the perfect afternoon snack, is gua bao – a delicious slab of tender pork, stuffed into a fluffy steamed bun.
If you do any kind of searching online for gua bao in Taipei, you’ll immediately stumble across a place called Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包).
Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包) really seems to have gained the reputation for being the gold standard of gua bao in all of Taipei.
And for any food lover (or pork lover) it would be almost silly not to join the lines and crowds for a taste of one of the most beloved Taiwanese pork belly sandwiches in all of Taipei.
It’s also impossible to miss Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包), and not necessarily because they are so busy (however they are also always very busy), but right across the street from them, in the same little cul-de-sac, is an even more popular place known as Chen San Ding (陳三鼎黑糖粉圓專賣店).
Chen San Ding (陳三鼎黑糖粉圓專賣店) seems to be a pilgrimage for those who love Taiwanese boba milk.
Between both the gua bao and the boba milk, or the combination of them both, there are typically enough customers hanging around and waiting in line to make the small neighborhood feel like it’s an walking street night market.
But first, what is a gua bao?
Sometimes referred to as a Taiwanese hamburger, a gua bao is like a sandwich, created with steamed Chinese style bread stuffed with braised pork belly.
At Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包) it begins with the bread, which is steamed bread similar to the bread used for baozi or mantou.
The bread, I noticed, was more like a pita sized bread, rather than being a bun, and instead of having to cut it over to add the insides (like a baguette), it was rather just folded half over like a taco to create the pocket for the meat filling.
You can ask for your gua bao with a combination of either fatty or lean pork, but from what most people recommended, they said half and half is best – don’t go too lean or you’ll lose the flavor.
So I got my gua bao with half fat and half lean mean.
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After she grabbed a freshly steaming bun right off the steamer, she scooped in the pork, which was already pre-braised and shredded, and then slopped in some pickled mustard greens, which also appeared to be braised in a dark sauce, sprinkled it with sweet crushed peanuts, and topped it with some sprigs of cilantro.
Finally, she wrapped it in a plastic bag and handed it to me.
Eating the gua bao
Even with the line, it didn’t take more than a few minutes to grab our Taipei afternoon gua bao treat, and instead of eating it in the crowd, we walked across the street to where it was a little more peaceful.
The bread remained warm and soft, and I could actually feel the softness and fluffiness of the bread when I picked it up (though the bag).
Price – 50 TWD
As I took my first bite, I immediately knew it was one of the finest gua bao I’d ever had, and why so many people were hanging around snacking there and waiting in line.
The bun was just as fluffy as it felt in my hand, and the pork inside was equally tender, blending into the softness of the bun.
The sprinkle of sweet peanuts gave it a sweet nutty flavor, countered by the freshness of the cilantro.
Everything added up to create a mind blowing-ly good gua bao, a little bit on the sweeter side, but still exceptionally good.
I might be making this up, but I think it got even better towards the bottom.
Could be because all the oil and juice and flavor got soaked up by the bottom of the bun.
I had also read that Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包) was famous for their corn soup, and even though corn soup really didn’t sound that good to me, I decided I better have it.
While I predicted from the start that the gua bao was going to be good, it wasn’t the same for the corn soup… but the corn soup surprised me.
It was plain and simple, but somehow the soup had a wonderful sweet corn flavor, like sweet corn infused water, all wrapped up in a perfectly salty liquid.
Price – 60 TWD
There were also big nuggets of tender pork in there as well. The corn soup was actually really good, and went really well with the gua bao.
I’d recommend it.
My wife Ying is actually the one who ordered the boba milk drink, and while I was off taking photos of the two stall, she stood in line for about 10 minutes to get the famous drink.
Ying ordered with no sugar, as you could order your preferred level of sweetness. The drink came with a scoop of tapioca boba balls, plus a bunch of creamy milk on top, and a scoop of ice, all filled into a plastic cup.
I did a little shake up, and mixed all the ingredients, and then popped my straw into the plastic top of the cup.
When I had my first taste, I didn’t taste any tea, although I thought it was a Taiwanese milk tea. So I thought there was no tea in it, and after posting the video, many people confirmed that it was not tea at all, but just a milk beverage.
The little tapioca balls were chew like mochi, and they were cooked in a brown sugar syrup so they had a caramel like flavor to them, almost like molasses.
Since Ying ordered her cup of boba milk without extra sugar, it was still sweet from the boba, but not overly sweet.
Price – 35 TWD
The milk was creamy and refreshing. Overall, pretty good, but I’m not a huge boba milk drinker, so I’m not a great judge in that department.
Nevertheless, jumping in line at Chen San Ding (陳三鼎黑糖粉圓專賣店) after you grab you gua bao is not a bad idea.
If you want to get the full feel of the food and environment, here’s a full eating video of the experience and he food:
(If you can’t see the video, watch it on YouTube)
Located near the University of Taiwan, Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包) is a small restaurant that’s known for serving one of the best versions of gua bao, a Taiwanese braised pork belly sandwich, in Taipei.
I ordered a mix of both fatty and lean braised pork, which was filled into a steamed bun, topped with preserved mustard greens, and seasoned with crushed peanuts.
Their gua bao was one of those things that you take a first bite of, and before you consciously realize it, you’re on your last bite.
Chen San Ding (陳三鼎黑糖粉圓專賣店), located right opposite Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包) is wildly famous for their boba tapioca pearl milk (tea), and it’s not a bad idea to include as well.
Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包)
Address: No. 3號, Alley 8, Lane 316, Section 3, Roosevelt Rd, Zhongzheng District, Taipei City, Taiwan 100
Open hours: 11 am – midnight from Tuesday – Sunday (closed on Monday)
Prices: The gua bao was 50 TWD, corn soup 60 TWD, and the boba milk was 35 TWD
How to get there: Lan Jia Gua Bao (藍家割包) is located very close to National Taiwan University, and within the Gongguan Night Market (though I went there during the day). It’s about a 5 minute walk from Gongguan MRT station.