OK, you caught me there. Yes, the Red Sesame Chicken Steamed Bao does cost $3.25 as well, but let's not take away anything from the tofu. Chairman Bao cuts a nice Spam musubi-sized slice of tofu that is marinated in miso and buttermilk before it's coated with panko and then lightly fried. This is then topped with crunchy bok choy greens and a creamy blend of garlic, white miso and tofu puree. All of it is finally nestled comfortably in the embraces of the familiar steamed bun.
The result of all this layering of flavors and textures is the artful contrast of elements for which Chairman Bao is known. The slightly sweet tofu finds a partner in the also sweet bun, and they make a wonderful pairing for the bitter greens. Despite being the menu's vegetarian option, the dish still gets just enough of an umami kick from the miso in the sauce.
The panko breading gives the tofu a bit of crispiness, but it is not so heavy that it competes with the crunchy and moist bok choy stems, and I can easily make out both textures in my mouth. The miso-tofu mayonnaise lends some silkiness to the bun's slightly doughy consistency, and all the textures come together like a Tabitha and Napoleon So You Think You Can Dance group routine.
There's even a mix of temperatures going on, with the coolness of the greens chasing the warmth of the fried tofu.
The result of the whole balancing act is a fun little snack that goes down quicker than the heavier Pork Belly Bao. It's extremely tasty and a great bit of art, but it's more of a prelude to the next truck on the lot than a pièce de résistance by itself. Maybe it plays as a more complete meal when ordered as a larger baked bao (but there goes the pricing harmony). In fact, even though it can be a bit of a drippy mess at times, it's a good way to pass the time while queuing up for the main course.
Rating: 3.5/5 (ratings guide)
Chairman Bao (@chairmantruck) $3.25 per bun
Does reading this make you want to try this vendor? Tell them that you saw them at I Left My Cart in San Francisco and support San Francisco street cuisine!