Bao at DADDY BAO; Fathers, Sons & Bedtime Stories

Shittake mushroom bao is an umami hit at Daddy Bao in Tooting.
I remember when it all came to an end. I was 13 years old, much older than I cared to admit to my friends at the time. And when it was all over, my dad and I took a while to come to terms with our shared loss.

For that was the moment – sorely conflicted, but with my mind decidedly made-up – that I told my dad the time had come: from now on, there’d be no more bedtime stories.

From my very first days on earth, devoid of words or language, to a secondary-school boy on the cusp of adolescence – my dad and I had engaged in the same nightly ritual. Day in, day out, he would sit in the same old rickety wicker chair in the corner of my bedroom, draw out a book and read to me.

And I’d listen. Attentively. Hungrily. Soaking up story after story like a dessicated but thirsty sponge. And when it was eventually time for bed, I’d be so saturated with story, that my eyelids would droop down like two ponderous curtains, and sleep would spirit me away.

As the years ticked by, a succession of characters would fly off the pages and swirl spiritedly around my room; old friends who would visit me time and again.

My undoubted favourite when I was small was Lowly Worm: bedecked in bowtie and Tyrollean hat, he was arguably the most consummately-dressed nematode to have ever graced children’s literature. I’d also take great delight in his uncanny knack of popping up in the most incongruous of places. Like inside a loaf of bread. A cement mixer. Or clinging on to the exterior fuselage of an in-flight 747.

As the books became more complex, storytime became progressively longer: twenty minutes, then thirty, then even longer.

After all, how could we put the book down before discovering the fate of Aslan as he lay motionless on The Stone Table?.. Or whether Bilbo Baggins would escape the nefarious attentions of Gollum?.. Or whether Bigwig would valiantly fend off General Woundwort to save Watership Down?..

Dad and I would utterly lose ourselves in these fantastical worlds and tales of derring-do. And in so doing, we’d become part of that long lineage of storytelling that developed many millennia ago, when the first humans sat by an open fire and words spilled out from their mouths. This is how primal storytelling is. It is part of who we are.

Yes, over the years dad and I enjoyed some memorable times; these bedtime rituals became a shared endeavour that we grew to love and depend on. Which made the decision to stop, when it came, all the more heartbreaking.

And yet, on reflection, the story doesn’t actually stop there. Something that I’m only now beginning to realise: how those nights of storytelling have continued to shape and mould my life. Who I am. What I do. Indeed, its legacy has probably had an inordinately long reach.

After all, as a doctor in child and adolescent mental health, what does my job involve? Listening, attentively. Hearing about people and their lives, what they’re feeling and thinking, their tough times and their future aspirations. In other words, their stories.

Yes, I might throw in the odd diagnosis or two, but at heart it’s really their narrative, and how to make sense of it, that’s most important. And most interesting. And it’s a humbling privilege to be given such a window into people’s lives, an honour which I never take for granted.

And then in my spare time, what do I do? I write. I have no doubt that my new-found love for writing stems from those countless evenings listening to dad and all those stories and escapades.

For although I love food, and thoroughly enjoy writing about it, it’s actually the stories around food that resonate with me the most. And why so many of my articles have stories woven into them, whether be it my periodic forays into fiction, or as autobiographical memoir.

And, finally, which part of the day is now my most treasured? Storytime with my own boys. Those hours spent listening to dad, captivated by his storytelling – well, it’s now become a gift I pass down to my own children.

For now I’m the storyteller. And it’s a mantle I cherish so deeply.

And when I read them those very same stories I once knew and loved, when I relive the very moment when The White Witch loses her icy grip on Narnia; or when Bastian Balthazar Bux first realises he’s actually part of the Neverending Story; or when Taran finally discovers who he really is – I see my own dad, all snug in that old rickety wicker chair, reading to me.

And of course, inevitably, it means there’ll come a day, perhaps not that far off now, when my eldest will turn to me and say “dad, you don’t need to read to me anymore“, and I will offer him a wry smile and reply “I know son“. And you know, that’s okay…

*

All sorts of things can be gifted down the generations: family heirlooms, shared rituals, or impassioned interests or pursuits. Sometimes we are aware of its value at the time, other times it takes a while for their significance to surface. But either way, these things can give us a deep connection to those we feel closest to.

In a similar way to how I was enthralled by my dad reading stories to me, as a kid Frank Yeung would keenly observe his own father, Joe, in the family restaurant. His father would come to run that place for 30 years in all before retiring, and Frank’s fond memories of growing up amidst the clatter of crockery and the hubbub of a dining-room would eventually shape a decision he’d make much later in life.

When Frank decided to leave a secure City job to open Mr Bao in Peckham, it was certainly a risk, but ultimately he was following his heart and a yearning whose origins were deeply rooted in childhood. Sure enough, it turned into a roaring success, prompting him to open another venture. This time he named it ‘Daddy Bao’, in honour of his father.

Frank’s food also plays homage to his Chinese heritage, mainly in the form of big fluffy bao with its raft of creative savoury fillings. The bao themselves are delightfully springy between the teeth, and slightly sweet inside the mouth – a perfect pillowy foil for anything hot, tangy or crispy that lies within.

Tofu bao come packed with the zing and warmth of ginger, whilst kim chi lends a pungent kick and a delectable crunch. The one with shiitake marries up that particular umami appeal of mushroom with a punchy style of mayonnaise.

The snacks at Daddy Bao are addictively moreish too. Green bean fritters, lightly battered and crisped up in the deep-fat fryer, prove perfect for dunking into the sweet-salt-sour of kung-pao sauce.

Meanwhile, cool slippery slivers of aubergine are served up in a silky sesame sauce – try saying that after a few glasses of Taiwan lychee beer! This earthy dish may smack more of the Middle East than the Far East – particularly with the addition of ruby-red pomegranate seeds – yet still seems to dovetail well with the rest of the menu.

Desserts are also comprised of.. yes, bao. In this incarnation, they come deep-fried and still warm: its crispy crust yielding a gorgeously gooey interior. It’s served up with a scoop of sesame-seed ice-cream, suitably not-too-sweet: the sugar-hit instead comes from a generous drizzle of salted-miso and white chocolate sauce. It’s yet another dish that adroitly balances flavours and textures.

Frank’s father Joe may have retired from his own restaurant, but you can still find him working the occasional shift in Daddy Bao. Indeed, it mirrors how my own dad still reads out bedtime stories, albeit nowadays it’s to my boys rather than to me.

It all goes to show that some gifts aren’t just priceless, they can literally keep on giving. And that the joy is as much in the giving, as in the receiving.

*

Whilst we’re on the topic of bedtime stories, I’ve a couple of friends who both work for charities whose aim is to encourage and support children and families reading – so here’s a shout-out to Booktrust and Learn to Love to Read, and the great work that they do. Meanwhile, one story I loved dearly as a child – heck, it brings me to tears even now! – is Watership Down. So much so that I wrote my very own short story in homage to it, ‘The Tale of Prince Sandalfoot’, if you’d like to have a read. Do you have a favourite childhood book? – I’d love to hear about it…

Daddy Bao Daddy Bao

Daddy Bao, Tooting

The menu at Daddy Bao in Tooting is replete with Taiwanese treats.

 

This restaurant in Tooting serve up some great Taiwanese snacks, including this aubergine dish.

 

Green bean fritters, one of many great snacks at this restaurant in Tooting.

 

Tofu bao with miso mayonnaise is a complex dish of contrasting flavours and textures.

 

Deep-fried dessert delights with ice-cream at Daddy Bao in Tooting.

 

Flower and chopsticks decorate the tables at this Taiwanese restaurant in Tooting.

 

Tooting's Daddy Bao has a glorious green-tiled bar decorated with red lanterns.

 

Wall decor at Daddy Bao in Tooting.

29 Comments

  1. Gabbie Jerrit
    13th June 2019 / 5:45 pm

    Almost in tears at the wonderful description of bedtime story time! Thank you Aaron!

    • aaron
      Author
      15th June 2019 / 7:43 am

      Thanks so much Gabbie, that’s really kind of you. Not sure if it’s a good thing or not to reduce people to actual tears! But that said, there were moments when my eyes did well up whilst writing it!

  2. 13th June 2019 / 6:28 pm

    What a wonderful way you have with words. It is a privelege to read your emails and stories. And, your restaurant I’m certain will have the crowds coming for many years. Thank you for sharing this part of yourself. Merrill

    • aaron
      Author
      15th June 2019 / 7:47 am

      That’s really kind of you, Merrill! Unfortunately for Daddy Bao, I don’t think my blog has anything like that kind of influence.. but maybe if one or two locals enjoy a night out after reading this, then that’d be great!

  3. Helena
    14th June 2019 / 9:13 am

    I just love your writing! You’re a true storyteller! 🙂

    • aaron
      Author
      15th June 2019 / 7:47 am

      Thanks so much Helena – really appreciate it!

  4. sangeeta Sethi
    15th June 2019 / 11:42 am

    Beautiful heart touching narration..literally my eyes were in tears ..lovely write up..

    • aaron
      Author
      15th June 2019 / 7:29 pm

      Thanks so much, Sangeeta – really appreciate it!

  5. 15th June 2019 / 7:14 pm

    Oh Aaron – best writer out there xx

    • aaron
      Author
      15th June 2019 / 7:17 pm

      Aw shucks, Binny X

  6. 16th June 2019 / 8:00 am

    Don’t know which but if this post I love more, the take of storytime with your dad, the way it wants into your life today, the story behind me Bao, or the descriptions of the good at Daddy Bao? Wonderful post. The stories are all wonderful.

  7. 16th June 2019 / 8:02 am

    Don’t know which bit io this post I love more, the take of storytime with your dad, the way it wants into your life today, the story behind me Bao, or the descriptions of the good at Daddy Bao? Wonderful post. The stories are all wonderful.

    • aaron
      Author
      16th June 2019 / 8:17 am

      Thanks so much for your lovely words, Kavey. Really glad you liked it! 🙂

  8. 16th June 2019 / 8:51 am

    Reading your words took me back to storytime with parents and grandma, and how I still love hearing the tales from their youth. This is one of my favourite pieces of yours as it weaves together your past, present and future so skillfully, as well as your work, a review and the history of that restaurant. A meal isn’t just about the ingredients on the plate – there’s a story behind every dish, every person in the team and the building itself. I find it all so fascinating. Thank you for your wonderful words, Aaron x

    • aaron
      Author
      19th June 2019 / 8:25 pm

      Thanks so much Seetal – so glad you liked the piece, and very touched by your words. I guess that stories have such a timeless quality – such a primal way for us to connect with others, the present and the past.

  9. 16th June 2019 / 9:28 am

    Aaron you are a genius with words! Your narrative totally took me back to my childhood and there is no better storyteller out there than you! As for the Bao, well being Veggie, I immediately want to go there and try all these varieties! Always blown away by your posts! x

    • aaron
      Author
      19th June 2019 / 8:28 pm

      Aw, Bejal! Thanks so much. I’ve been dabbling recently in creating my own stories, so I guess it was a matter of time before I started to reflect on the power of storytelling more generally. Thanks so much again!

    • aaron
      Author
      19th June 2019 / 8:28 pm

      It really is! Interesting food, and utterly moreish..

  10. Dad
    20th June 2019 / 6:53 pm

    To my dear son
    Reading to you every night was one of the greatest pleasures of my life.I consider it was such a privilege and am delighted that you took as much from it as me.we were continuing a tradition started by my dad,Grandpa Reuben.He was a single handed GP who after doing his nightly surgery would then do his home visits.he regularly came home after nine to ten at night. I can remember calling out “high dad” when I heard his key turned in the front door lock. He must have been exhausted after a full day’s work but would then come to read to me. He would read stories from comics such as The Wizard and Rover And Adventure and The Hotspur. They were real weekly comics; no pictures only words and had short stories such as Braddock- ace fighter pilot or Alfie- the long distance runner or Roy of the Rovers-Aguero and Salah all rolled into one. Often ending in weekly cliff hangers. Think Conan Doyle and Sherlock Holmes.
    I was tearful when it came to and end but it was worth every minute and I have never regretted a single moment
    From Grandpa Reuben to me: me to you; and hopefully you to your sons

    • aaron
      Author
      23rd June 2019 / 7:23 am

      Aw, dad.. Thanks so much for your lovely words. I can imagine Grandpa Reuben would have made a wonderful storyteller. And Grandma Beryl too, for that matter! I also think you had such incredible patience too – how many times did you end up reading aloud the Lord of the Rings trilogy? Well, you’ll be glad to know we’ve just finished chapter one…

  11. Emma @ Adventures of a London Kiwi
    20th June 2019 / 9:35 pm

    Utterly gorgeous. Utterly, utterly gorgeous!

    • aaron
      Author
      23rd June 2019 / 7:24 am

      Thanks so much, Emma! Really glad you liked it. 🙂

  12. 21st June 2019 / 3:43 am

    What a nice story! Also love the baos and the food they serve there, that dessert looks insane!

    • aaron
      Author
      23rd June 2019 / 7:26 am

      Thanks Sylvie! Yes, I wasn’t sure whether a dessert out of bao would work – but it really does! Comfort food squared..

  13. 23rd June 2019 / 10:21 am

    Love this post in so many ways, and especially love your dad’s comment above… all the feels!!! Food looks amazing, too…

    • aaron
      Author
      23rd June 2019 / 8:22 pm

      Thanks so much Anita, that’s really kind! Yes, the food’s great – do try this place if you’ve got the chance!

  14. Mrs S N Pigott
    23rd June 2019 / 7:38 pm

    Yes, your Dad’s comments are so very special and heartfelt. I was telling a friend at Taste how you weaved these different stories together so cleverly for Father’s Day. I think it will make it to my food writing workshops http://www.sudifoodie.com as a lovely example of finding your own voice. Sudi x

    • aaron
      Author
      23rd June 2019 / 8:20 pm

      Thanks so much, Sudi. So glad you liked it, and I’d be truly honoured for you to use the piece for your workshop! 🙂

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