Nov 14, 2019

Review: Panda Express - Pastrami Pork Belly Bao

Panda Express' Pastrami Pork Belly Bao is a test item that features hickory liquid-smoked pork belly with pastrami spices, pickled cucumbers, and a hoisin glaze folded in a steamed rice flour bun (AKA a bao). It's meant to be a mash-up between a Taiwanese gua bao (pork belly bun) and a pastrami sandwich.

I bought these for $2.75 each at their Innovation Kitchen in Pasadena.

These are snack-sized and just slightly bigger than a slider.

The bun was fluffy, moist, and soft. It cradled the pork and cucumbers quite nicely.

The pork tasted like lightly-smoked pastrami (which is traditionally made with brisket). The meat was tender and juicy with a nice bark at the surface. With two thick slices per bao, there was plenty enough for each meaty bite.

The lightly pickled cucumbers contributed a slight tang and sweetness as well as a fresh quality and a watery crunch.

Hoisin sauce usually packs a savory, salty punch but they dialed it back for the hoisin glaze here. It was almost delicate and layered on a lightly sweet touch of umami.
At the end of the day, Panda Express' Pastrami Pork Belly Bao hits the right marks with a nice balance between the taste of pastrami and a gua bao. Usually with a pastrami sandwich, the meat comes pared with mustard or a sweet and tangy slaw. Panda makes it work with pickled cucumbers and a light hoisin glaze. As a bonus, you can ask them to sprinkle on some fried shallots for an extra crunch and punch of flavor.

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