CHAR SIU BAO
Gaze into the fridge at Hong Kong Dim Sum's Glen Waverley store and you'll beam like a proud new parent. Big and small bao are lined up on the shelves, cosy in their packets like babies in a nursery. Sweet versions have shiny, smooth tops and boast fillings like custard or black sesame. Most varieties can also be steamed to order. The barbecue pork buns are excellent, with a fluffy exterior and sweet sliced pork filling.
Hong Kong Dim Sum, 77 Kingsway, Glen Waverley, 9545 3886 and 37 Carrington Road, Box Hill, 9898 8573.
STEAMED LAMB BUNS
In China's far north-western corner, the Xinjiang region is bordered by Kazakhstan and Mongolia. Out here on the steppes, bao takes on an entirely different appearance. The steamed lamb buns at 1+1 Dumpling Noodles have thin wheat flour skins, a crimped top and a filling of diced lamb, onion and cumin. They are traditionally accompanied by a simple lamb soup or salted, milky tea.
1+1 Dumpling Noodles, 84 Hopkins Street, Footscray, 9687 8988.
XIAO LONG BAO
With their thin skins and pleated tops, xiao long bao are often classed as dumplings. In actual fact, these magical, soup-filled morsels belong to the bao family. Xiao long bao are a specialty of Shanghai Street Dumplings, where they are translated as ''mini juicy buns''. To eat, ease onto a spoon, suck out the hot broth and toss the whole juicy package back.
Shanghai Street Dumplings, 342 Little Bourke Street, city, 0402 627 832, 64 Latrobe Street, city, 0405 427 910 and 146-148 Little Bourke Street, city, 9662 3226.
Andrew Wong has bao in his blood. Both his father and grandfather were bao makers, with his parents still running a traditional bao bakery in the backblocks of Braybrook. Wong's store Wonderbao specialises in gua bao, which could be categorised as Taiwanese tacos. Steamed bao bread is folded around fillings such as braised, sticky pork belly with pickled mustard greens, peanuts and coriander.
Wonderbao, Shop 4, 19-37 A'Beckett Street, city, 9654 7887; wonderbaokitchen.com.au.
BEEF RENDANG BAO
Madame Squint is a burger bar with a difference. Each ''Chinese burger'' here comes with the filling snuggled up in a warm, fluffy bao bun. Chef Widya Utomo makes all the fillings in-house, from soft-shell crab with spicy mayo to sweet chilli tofu. The beef rendang bao is filled with tasty, mildly spiced beef rendang, made to Widya's Chinese-Indonesian family recipe. For the ultimate in culture mashing, though, try a breakfast bao, filled with bacon, fried egg and cheese.
Madame Squint, Shop 2, 353 Little Collins Street, city, 9600 0150.