We Like Bunn’s Big Buns (and We Cannot Lie)
The fluffy pork bun is a miracle of portable food no matter how you slice (or steam) it. Cheap, filling, cheap, tasty, cheap, and also inexpensive, you can stuff yourself with stuffed goodness at a bevy of places around Midtown. There’s been good ones at places with otherwise questionable food, places that do amazing noodle soup, and old-guard name-changer stalwarts. When we got word that Bunn had popped up in the old Bunch space at ML favorite and William Gibsonesque vertical food court Food Gallery 32, we wanted to strike while the steamer was hot.
You literally can’t miss Bunn – it’s immediately to your left the second you enter Food Gallery 32. All that steam coming up is a good sign – and good cover for food bloggers trying not to be made by their marks. 23 Skidoo and all. Their cutaways look stuffed to the brim. This is always welcome, doubly so when the pork & cabbage buns and/or char siu bao I usually get are tasty but could use more guts, less dough.
Bargain hunters rejoice – there’s real variety to be had here. While most of the 8th Ave places that serve up Chinese steamed buns do so for really, really cheap – $1.25 seems to be the average – these may be double the price but they are double the volume. This beef bun is being hefted by the hand of a grown adult male (mental age is still questionable) and it’s hefty in size and bulk. The filling dominates – salty/sweet/tangy ground beef with cabbage and glass noodles. There’s also a really good bit of chive aroma coming out, and the whole filling assemblage yields well. It does scatter about, though, so be wary if you’re cutting these to share.
A very good sign is present in the bun part. It’s not the fluffball that you’d expect if you’ve had Chinese steamed buns. Instead, it’s more like mochi or Korean rice cakes. It’s not yielding, it’s a bite-and-pull affair. It’s a great thing, though – a really nice variation of textures. The glass noodles are a good filling component, too – it keeps things nice and springy on the inside. It’s like a perfect assemblage of fluff-promoting ingredients and methods.
The pork bun was one hell of a variant. Nobody says anything about it being spicy, so if you’re sensitive to hot stuff, be thee forewarned here. It’s definitely got a good hit of gochujang in there to heat things up in a nice, warming way, but it’s got just a tad detectable bit of sweetness to it. I like this, though – a spicy-but-a-bit-sweet hit goes well with the meat. It’s got cabbage – not kimchi, just cabbage – stirfried in as well. Definitely a solid call, well worth having. My co-worker who went in on the order with me loved this and the beef the best.
At the risk of creeping into hipsterism, I liked bacon before people started putting it in everything and making stupid stuff out of it (That link is worksafe unless you work at a religious institution). That said, I was never impressed by Korilla’s bacon kimchi fried rice whenever I had them. It sounded good, but was too bland in execution – the rice dulled out the flavor. Bunn’s bacon kimchi bun is what Korilla wishes it could be while sighing wistfully, looking out the window. The bacon and kimchi are cooked together, so the flavors meld perfectly. Moreover the bacon is crisp enough to retain some stiffness and give another good texture variation. That’s along with the kimchi, too, which still has a lot of crunch left to it. Seriously, this is perfection. I could eat three of these for a meal at the ML limit. My one complaint: the dough layer was a bit thin on this one.
The kimchi bun was the bacon kimchi bun, equally packed to the brim with awesome kimchi, but falling apart due to a paper-thin bottom layer. You can see it at the top of the bun, the stippled bumps that kind of look like uncooked chicken skin. See how thin that is? I’m guessing the liquids in the kimchi did it in. To be honest, while the pure kimchi was great and there’s those glass noodles for extra body again, I’d rather just get the pork bun. Dense and flavorful, and less breakage risk. This is a real dealbreaker if you’re gonna eat and run, especially if you’re wearing clothes you don’t wanna kimchi-ify.
Last but not least, the folded special bun. Holy crap, please marry me. It says it’s pork shoulder but it tastes and feels like pork belly, in a similar gochujang/sweet stuff sauce, but enough crispness and fatty yieldingness to remind me of perfectly done pork from Tabata’s ramen. I can offer no higher complements to the pork in this one. The slaw is a basic American-style cole slaw, but it’s light on the mayo and big on the crunch. The bun itself is twice as glutinous and chewy as the conventional ones – and that is amazing. I’ve never had anything this fluffy and chewy that I liked this much – I’m not much one for mochi, so saying this means a lot. This is a rip-and-tear bun, and I am going back for it sooner rather than later.
Food Gallery 32 and its across-the-street rival Woorijip are basically the nexus of cheap, amazing Korean food on the run in Midtown and this latest addition is a wonderful diadem in the constant crown that is Koreatown in NY. If you have to walk past this area to get to work, and you just need a grab-and-go to get back to Penn or Port Authority, this is it. These buns traveled well and were still hot and fluffy after about four long blocks and two short ones. Best of all, when they’re almost all $2.50 each, you can eat like Kim Jong-Un on a post-Dennis Rodman bender. Plus, there’s tons of variety to boot – and dessert options too. I’ll be honest – this is my new favorite steamed bun place. It takes a lot to get me to not go around the corner to Lunch Box, but this is as close as the competition has come thus far.
The + (What the Psy, BIGBANG, and steamed bun fanboys/fangirls would say):
- Stuffed to the brim and flavorful!
- The perfection of bun ensconcement is down to a science – chewy and soft!
- As cheap as its predecessor with more variety to the menu!
The – (What the undercover North Korean infiltration agents would say):
- Why are the buns with kimchi so thin on the bottom? Real structural integrity issues here!
- Would be nice to have a bulk buy.
Bunn, 5 West 32nd St., btw 5th and 6th (Inside Food Gallery 32)