Tom’s BaoBao in Providence

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BaoBao!

As a way to honor the founding Chinese members of the Abbey Culinary Club, we went to Tom’s BaoBao in Providence to learn the art of making “bao,” these delicious dumplings, and to then eat the interesting variety offered at this amazing restaurant. Under the instruction of Jeremiah Tracy (Vice President of US Operations) and the watchful eye of Rosamond Lu (Chief Operating Officer), students made dough and shaped it into the small round spheres that, ideally, would be filled with assorted meats and vegetables. Jerry and Rosamond, along with their staff, were generous with their time and patient with our efforts, and they could not have provided a nicer—and tastier—experience for the students. And they got the ultimate seal of approval from those who would know.

I grew up eating Bao-zi. When I hear “Bao,” I picture my grandmother’s powdery hands, the large stainless steel bowl filled with dough, the smell of the ground pork stuffing, and the wate rdrops rolling down the steamer. When I learned about the trip to Tom’s BaoBao, I was so excited, as I never imagined experiencing the familiar taste in a foreign land. When we stepped into the shop in Providence, I immediately went ahead and chatted with the CFO of the company, a nice lady from Suzhou. Aside from the general lecture, she satisfied my curiosity with more information on the chained enterprise. I enjoyed seeing such a diverse group of customers walking into the store and experiencing the cuisine that I had thought I so loved exclusively.

My favorite kind of Bao at the store had a chicken stuffing, which was not so quite traditional in my opinion. We use pork more often back home. However, chicken, cabbage, carrot and bean sauce–the combination surprised my palate. The steaming aroma flew up my nose and tingled my senses. The chicken was well cooked, not too dry after a thorough job of marinating. I also tried the curry beef and carrot stuffing — also quite delicious. In China, we usually put only two kinds of items in one Bao, two veggies, or a meat and a veggie, but the bigger array of combinations here opened my eyes.

It was an absolute joy to visit Tom’s BaoBao in Providence. I hope more people can try the Bao, one of the most authentic Chinese foods around the New England area!–Amber Liao ’17

Nestled in the heart of Providence, Tom’s BaoBao stands out from most other storefronts. Rather than mannequins dressed in this season’s latest, Tom’s BaoBao displays its workers crafting Bao, a traditional Chinese dish. To the uneducated eye, “bao” is simply a pocket of dough filled with something. Juicy pork, beef, and chicken are served, along with a sweet potato filling and a vegetarian option. Tom’s BaoBao also offers seasonal fillings and specials, like lobster and even peanut butter and jelly. Their bao is both innovative and traditional, and a welcome change from typical street food.

It is exceptionally clear. It goes through a ridiculously meticulous process in order for bao to meet their standards. Starting with the ingredients, Tom’s bao is made from a special blend of many types of flour and baking ingredients. Their filling consists of ever-changing options, but consistent in their freshness. However, the ingredients only come together with the help of a trained “baoist.” Workers train for at least three months before they can make, measure, and craft the bao dough and ingredients to the standards of Tom’s BaoBao. Workers have to be able to separate dough balls so they weigh within two grams of 60 grams, and the dough and filling together have to weigh within two grams of 100 grams. Very precise! Their baoists have to master how to pinch and fold the dough to make it appeasing and tasty.

The bao cooks with steam, in steamers exclusively shipped from a remote village, with provincial grass mats and handcrafted bamboo steamers. A sticky outside and a juicy inside of the bun make a bao perfect. Tom’s BaoBao combines traditional bao-making techniques and innovative ingredients to make perfect, fresh bao for their customers.—Arthur Shipman ’18

Having read multiple posts on Chinese social media about Tom’s BaoBao’s old location in Harvard Square, the Culinary Arts Club’s first visit to a Chinese restaurant made me thrilled days before the trip. Like many of those posts said, I was curious how this kind of bao–which is more like a street food in China (unlike its cousin, the juicy pork dumpling)–can impress picky American taste buds and receive waves of good reviews. And of course, the answer could only be in the bao itself.

Not very long after we entered the restaurant, I found the answer to my question: their work ethic. Not only do they measure the weight of every finished bao to around 100 grams, but they also strive to find the finest ingredients. From the meat and flour of the bao, to the Oolong Tea from Wuyi Mountain, all the ingredients are top-notch and authentic. Interestingly, Tom’s Baobao makes bao with a “twist.” They love to experiment with flavors that are completely new: Reuben Bao, Chocolate Bao, sweet potato Bao etc.

What I also loved about the place is that it serves comfort food associated with home cooking. Westminster Street is my go-to place for lunch before shopping in Providence Place, and it is heartwarming to see Tom’s Baobao there. To sit down in Tom’s Baobao Providence and to eat a couple of baos feels just like home.–Christine Gu ’17

Baozi is among the oldest dishes still served in Chinese cuisine, first appearing in the 3rd Century AD. At Tom’s BaoBao we were led through the lengthy processes of mixing and kneading required to make baozi, and it truly gave me a sense of appreciation for what it takes to make Baozi. Tom’s BaoBao sources their specialty flour straight from China where the chain originated, and handmakes their Baozi as opposed to using a factory system for the strenuous kneading and mixing process. Whether this extra attention to detail really make a difference is unclear to me, however, there is no denying that the final product is absolutely delicious. Tom’s BaoBao serves a Juicy Pork Baozi which, coupled with vinegar, is a succulent Chinese classic. They also serve a more unconventional Curry Beef Baozi which puts a spiced twist on the baozi. While the menu is rather limited, Tom’s BaoBao makes up for that in the quality of the dishes they serve. Being able to find baozi of this quality in the U.S. is truly remarkable.–Oliver Ferry ’17

Before arriving at Tom’s BaoBao in Providence, the extent of my knowledge of bao was that I would be eating it in the next hour or so, hopefully sooner. Usually, that’s more than enough information to make me eat something. However, Jeremiah and Rosamond totally schooled us on bao: how to make it (from hand forming each bao to filling them); how to cook them, artfully and uniquely, in their bamboo steamers; and how to eat them, piping hot, with your hands, and happily.

We started out in the training room, each getting a chance to tear off–following a technique I couldn’t seem to master–exactly 60 grams of the dough. Despite the 2-gram error margin allowed, I left this job to the others. My skills were better suited for rolling the dough out into a disk and pinching the dough into a little dough-pocket-vessels of deliciousness. In the restaurant, I ordered the pork, the curried beef, the chicken, the sweet potato, and the vegetarian bao–literally the whole menu. Paired with the local soy milk, they reminded me of a Chinese empanada: doughy but not gummy, and filled with any arrangement of interesting flavors that didn’t overpower each other. I officially “bao down” to Tom’s in Providence. –Sydell Bonin ‘18

As a Chinese student, I used to hate Chinese food when I was little and preferred McDonalds and KFC to rice and dim sum. However, after I came to America for high school, everything changed. Chinese food gradually replaced French fries, burgers, and steaks’ place in my heart. The older I get, the more I love Chinese food, with its diversity and delicacy, and the more I realize that Chinese food is much more than just food–it’s a spirit and a lifestyle.

Led by Mrs. Bonin and Mr. Calisto, the Culinary Arts Club went on an adventure to Tom’s Baobao in Providence. As soon as I heard we were going to taste bao and learn how to make it inside the store, I couldn’t stop talking and thinking about it. Back home, bao is definitely one of my favorite breakfast foods. I would eat it almost every morning and still never get tired of it. Bao is a kind of big dumpling made up of dough and vegetable or meat. The dough is carefully shaped into a cone with a hollow center while the vegetable or meat fills the center space. The dough basically seals up the ingredient inside, and this action of “sealing” is translated as “bao” in Chinese, giving this Chinese dim sum food its name. There are many different kinds of bao, differentiated and categorized by what’s inside the Bao, the most common two being vegetable and pork bao. However, aside from these two, there are so many other kinds, including mushroom, beef, lobster, and so on. The interesting thing about bao is that you never know what kind it is because they all look the same outside until you take a bite and taste the inside ingredient.

The store is decorated and furnished in a modern Chinese style, fashionable and yet traditional. It has a big kitchen with transparent glass so that the customers can see every step in bao production. We were soon invited into a room at the back of the store to learn how to make bao. After all these years of eating bao, I thought the process of making it would be simple, but little did my naïve self know. The shaping of the dough proved the most challenging because the wall cannot be made too thick or too thin, while the seemingly simple folded pattern of the dough on the top rendered virtually impossible to accomplish. Time passed quickly as we culinary arts members worked together and laughed at our production. After our attempts at making bao, our favorite part–the tasting part–arrived. I chose three kinds of bao, including curry beef bao, pork bao, and vegetable bao. Upon the first bite, the thin wall of the bao tasted extremely soft while the ingredient inside gave bao its exquisite taste, a little saltiness accompanied by a little sweetness. A lot of people like the ingredient part the best because it gives bao its taste. However, my favorite part is actually the part where the dough wall meets the inside ingredient. Cooked and accompanied by the juice of the inside ingredient, the dough wall gives a light but satisfying flavor. It’s the taste of home! I felt as if the cozy environment and delicious bao brought me back to China, to those relaxing mornings, and to those sweet memories at home.–Kevin Jiang ‘17

Our Culinary Arts Club recently visited Tom’s BaoBao in Providence. While Providence is one of their only two United States locations (the other being in Harvard Square), they have many restaurants open in different locations across China. We were able to learn about the process through which bao is made, and even tried making some of our own, which gave us an appreciation for the artistic and cultural aspects of bao, a food that has been around for 1,200 years. The bao they make at Tom’s BaoBao is authentic, too, and they steam it in handcrafted bamboo baskets. We were able to try some bao at the end of our trip, and you can definitely taste some of the flavor notes from the bamboo. Bao is made to appeal to many of the senses, not just taste. Before even biting into the bao, you can smell the savory aroma and feel the pillow-like dough. That dough dissolves in the mouth, giving way to the delicious fillings. They offer several different varieties of bao, including pork, curry, chicken and vegetable. My personal favorite was the vegetarian, which was filled with bok choy, shittake, and smoked tofu. It was just the right balance of savory. All in all, are trip to Tom’s BaoBao was a huge success, and I hope to go again soon in the future!—Johanna Appleton ‘18

Tom’s Bao Bao is a restaurant that I would have been very unlikely to eat at if it weren’t for our Culinary Arts Club trip there. It was incredible getting to make the bao using practice dough because it was not only fun but gave me a respect for the art of making bao. I ordered chicken, pork and sweet potato bao, all of which were earth-shatteringly delicious. For a drink I got soy milk which I don’t usually like, however, it paired well with the warm dough – a drink I would certainly order again with bao. Since the Culinary Arts Club trip to Providence I have gone an additional time. While parking can be a bit of a hassle, I can definitely see myself making an effort to eat at Tom’s Bao Bao when in the Providence area.–Mattias Wawro ’17

Recently, the Culinary Arts Club went to Tom’s Bao Bao in Providence, Rhode Island to learn about the process of making bao. Before this trip, I had never heard of bao, and this experience was something extremely different from what I have done. Our guide and the vice-president of the company brought us to a large room where we were shown how the dough was made and shaped. We learned about sizing the dough and the technique of how bao should be rolled then shaped. As we worked on pinching the specific weights, he told us more about the company on a larger scale and its location in China. Afterwards, we were able to eat some different types of bao. The delicious bao assortment included chicken, veggie, beef, and pork. We left the training room to sit in the restaurant and wait to order our bao. When we received our bao, they were in perfect little spheres with a twist at the top, far different from what I was trying to make in the training room. The bao was warm and soft, and both fillings were very flavorful. I ordered the vegetarian and pork bao. The pork bao was gingery and tasted great. The vegetarian consisted of bok choy and tofu which made it much more earthy. The variety of food and atmosphere of the restaurant was so refreshing and inviting. Tom’s Bao Bao is truly a great restaurant, and its urban and bright ambience brings something new to the table. Next time I am in Providence, I would definitely go back to Tom’s Bao Bao.– Anastasia Dwyer ’17

Tradition and modern culture rarely fuse together smoothly, but Tom’s BaoBao in Providence manages be a part of the spunky hipster scene while still retaining the essential traits of this age-old Chinese practice. This dynamic was unique, lively, and fitting for the growing city of Providence, a town of immigrants and young innovative people. Tom’s BaoBao uses bamboo baskets to steam their glorified dumplings (“bao”) filled with stuffing from pork to lobster. These bamboo baskets are taken from a small village in the mountains of China, and it is the last place on earth where the making of these baskets continues. The global exchange and painstaking process of getting the baskets can be tasted in the final product. Mastering the Art of Bao takes years of intense training and discipline. The training time combined with the trans-global exchange puts a lot of pressure on a small niche restaurant in Providence. After the trip I went on with the school, I visited two more times, each one just a tasty as the last. I hope to see this quirky restaurant excel and prosper, because they honor quality craftsmanship above all, and that is a fleeting trait. –David Ingraham ‘17

Thrilled. Delighted. Ecstatic. Starved. All words I could use to describe my anticipation for this trip. One Sunday morning, the lot of us took the rickety Raven Bus over to Providence, where we stopped at none other than Tom’s BaoBao. Not really knowing what to expect, we all shuffled into the cozy yet modern-looking restaurant. Glass windows allowed for customers to watch the employees work their magic and create delicious bao. Soon enough, we would be making our own.

We were herded into a back room, where the resident manager told us about the history of bao and how it used to be served only to royalty, seeing as it was an entirely handmade process. Then it was our turn to try our hand at the craft. Many failed attempts and bruised hands later (rolling pins are more brutal than you think), some of us managed to make perfect little dumpling shapes out of our makeshift dough. It was deeply satisfying, to say the least. In all honesty, it wasn’t far off from our kindergarten years playing with Play-Do.

The next part was my absolute favorite: the eating part. Fidgeting impatiently while waiting for my food, I remember nearly drooling at the sight of my friend’s food—these dumplings were certainly fit for royalty. I decided to order one juicy pork bao bao, which was seasoned with a rich wine sauce, and one chicken bao bao, mixed with cabbage, onion and bean sauce. Not gonna lie, that chicken bao bao was to die for. I definitely plan on taking my friends to Tom’s in the near future.–Maya Wilson ’18

Recently, our Culinary Arts Club made the journey to the highly-praised Tom’s BaoBao nestled in the heart of Providence, RI. While only offering two locations in the United States with the other in Cambridge, Tom’s BaoBao did not lack character nor great food culture, truly satisfying any avid foodie and aesthetic person alike. Directly inside, our group was greeted with bright red walls layered with traditional Chinese lettering, a wide variety of unique specialty drinks, and a massive glass wall that provided an unobstructed view into the art, or rather magic, of making bao.

Our group was offered a unique opportunity to make our own bao in a special training room located off of the main dining-area. The head bao artist, along with other key members, gave us sample dough and stations while they began to explain the process and the history of the bao, originating in China many centuries ago. With each meticulous step leading to the finished bao (such as the precise weight for each dough-ball and the exact dough shape that must be formed in the palm of one’s hand) combined with our own haphazard attempts, many of the members in our group showed some doubt and hesitation towards the final product. However, this reluctance did not stop our attempts. No matter if our dough-balls looked like a child’s messy play-doh or if the weight was 30 clumpy grams over, the bao artists appreciated our efforts.

Now for the real magic—eating the bao (but not our own). The bao artists presented a variety of flavors, my favorite being the seasonal squash-filled bao. With taking my first succulent bite, I was immediately given divine knowledge and gave all five-APA’s. Each bite more flavorful than the last, my taste-buds fell in love with this magical bao. Although ordering three more bao of equally amazing yet differing flavors, I left hungry for more. This trip to Tom’s BaoBao offered a thrilling look into the culture behind a little ball of dough. I truly had bao’(d)own. –Michael Griffith ‘18

 When I first heard of the word “Bao,” I knew that it was going to be something about Chinese dumplings. I’ve always tried different kinds of dumplings from Korea and America, but Tom’s Bao Bao’s baozi was totally different from what I’ve tasted before. When I smelled the dough, it was the typical smell of the flour but slightly different to what I usually smelled. Even though I came from the culture familiar with baozi, I couldn’t be more surprised by the process and the taste of authentic Chinese baozi. Having Chinese friends on this trip made me more excited and enthusiastic about dumplings in China.

This authentic Chinese baozi was special in several ways. It was not as greasy as normal dumplings, and there were many choices for inside instead of just meat. Having choices like beef curry, pork, chicken and vegetables were a huge difference to me. Pork and vegetables were somewhat familiar to me, but when I had the first bite of the curry beef baozi, I could not hide by astonishment. It was the best combination of the perfect dough and delicious curry. This trip was more interesting because everyone could participate and learn about the new culture. I would recommend this place to all of my friends, not only because of the baozi, but also because of amazing people who welcomed us with bright smile.–Jennifer Park ’18

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