Sunday, May 5, 2013

if there are bao (buns) to be eaten, i'm first in line

Bison Short Rib bun from HotBunzz

I had seen Hot Bunzz (@HotBunzzTO) around on Twitter for awhile but our first taste of their buns was at the September 2012 Toronto Underground Market where their Beef Basil Thai bun was a hit with both Paul and myself. I've been stalking following Hot Bunzz on Twitter ever since. Growing up in a Chinese family like I did, I ate a lot of buns (or bao as they're called in Chinese), especially meat-filled ones, so I'm always curious to see how these little snacks are interpreted by others.

For the past few months, Hot Bunzz have been hinting that something big was happening and I finally learned what the buzz was about - they were launching a permanent space! When Hot Bunzz's Mitch invited me to preview their new place inside the (also new) Urban Bistro (@UrbanBistroTO) at 21 St. Clair Ave. West, I couldn't be more excited and accepted immediately.

After arriving, I spoke with owner Mark about how Hot Bunzz came to be and he told me he was inspired by the traditional Asian bao after travelling through Hong Kong and Shanghai, but wanted to do something different with the fillings. He believes that "food is about adventure" and you can definitely see that philosophy in the HotBunzz on display - the flavours they were previewing were Sicilian Sausage, Canadian Elk and Bison Short Rib.

Being the first to arrive, I was lucky enough to be the first ever "customer" to place an order at the Hot Bunzz counter - I chose the Canadian Elk with a side of Melon and Feta salad. Excited about the first order (and probably distracted by all my chatter), Mark served me a Bison Short Rib bun instead. I'm glad he did though because it was amazing! 

Mark preparing my order

The bun was just how I remembered from TUM - soft and sweet, without being too doughy or heavy, and the bison short rib was full of flavour and (not exaggerating here) melt-in-my-mouth soft. When I'm having baos, I prefer less bread and more filling, which is exactly why I love Hot Bunzz. Their bun is like a light, barely-there vehicle, carrying all the yummy goodness inside. It's a perfect combination and balance of bread and filling.

Besides the savoury options, Mitch also mentioned that they're developing dessert-oriented buns, like Pear with Ginger and Apple Crumble, and Breakfast Bunzz, which means that I can have Hot Bunzz for pretty much every meal from morning to night (and they also make great late-night snacks!)

Pricing is $8-$9 for a Single Combo (bun, kettle chips, salad and a pop), $10-$11 for a Double Combo (two buns, chips, salad and a pop), two for $5 "Street Sweets" and after 5pm, you can get six buns and a large salad for $20. All prices already include tax.

Mark and Mitch were kind enough to send me home with a box of Hot Bunzz of my own. Unfortunately, Paul and I couldn't wait to dig into them for dinner that evening and I forgot to take a picture (this, from the girl who snaps a photo of EVERYTHING). In my defense, how could anyone not be excited to open up a box of Hot Bunzz and find Texas Pulled Pork, Brazilian BBQ Beef, Sicilian Sausage Pizza, Canadian Elk and 3-Cheese Mushroom Spinach (apparently, one of the few veggie options that meat-loving Mark will mention when asked).

Mitch and Mark talking Hot Bunzz strategy
Do you want to know how good Hot Bunzz really are? Paul, who hates mushrooms, actually said the 3-Cheese Mushroom Spinach bun was one of his favourites. Yes, Hot Bunzz is THAT good.

This was also the first preview event that I had attended as a blogger, so I'm grateful for Mark and Mitch for inviting me. It was a lot of fun to chat with them both about this project and watch them fine-tune their techniques. I feel like I've been following Hot Bunzz from the start, so it's absolutely amazing to see them launch this next phase. I'll definitely be a fan for a long, long time!

A big thank you also to Mandy, who owns Urban Bistro and who cooked up wonderful bowls of shirataki noodles and shrimp for everyone to try while we were there. Watching everyone work to put this space together is awesome and I can't wait to go back with Paul once they officially open this week!

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