Taiwanese meatballs: Little gems of seasoned pork all wrapped up

This isn’t your typical meatball. Pronounced

ba wan


in the Taiwanese Hokkein dialect, the dish is a steamed ball of minced pork wrapped inside a translucent, gelatinous bubble made of rice and sweet potato flour. Inside the pork is, depending on the variation, a mixture of bamboo shoots and shiitake mushrooms and it’s served drenched in a sweet chili sauce, which can be a mixture of ketchup, sugar, garlic paste, chili and rice flour.

Ba wan is a uniquely Taiwanese dish. It originates from the Beitou area of Taiwan and is typically sold by street vendors throughout the island. Earlier versions featured sweet potato flour shaped into triangles and steamed without the fillings. Luckily for Angelenos, there's quite a few Taiwanese eateries that carry this little gem on their menus. Here's a breakdown.

Sinbala ($2.75)

At Sinbala in Arcadia, the meatball is sufficiently stuffed with minced pork, shiitake and a huge helping of fresh bamboo shoots. One bite in and a flurry of soft, baby bamboo shoots will reveal themselves. They're similarly generous with the sauce at Sinbala and if you find yourself taking a liking to these unique gelatinous meatballs, you can buy them frozen to store at home. Just pop them in the steamer and serve hot. 651 W. Duarte Road, Arcadia; (626) 446-0886

QQ Kitchen 2.59

Thanks to QQ Kitchen on Las Tunas, you don't have to eat pork to be able to sample ba wans. QQ is a vegetarian Taiwanese joint so the "pork" inside the ba wan isn't actually pork. Instead, they substitute it with faux meat, tofu pieces and two meaty pieces of shiitake. 9441 ½ Las Tunas Drive, Temple City; (626) 292-1128

Yi Mei 2.75

Yi Mei in Monrovia is a recently opened Taiwanese breakfast joint that features made-to-order Formosan morning staples like you tiao (fried cruller) and soy milk. The ba wan can be purchased steamed or frozen. The sauce is more reminiscent of the versions in southern Taiwan: savory and slightly on the spicy side. 943 W. Duarte Road, Monrovia, (626) 275-8785

Tofu King 3.50

The stuffing within the ba wan at Tofu King is rather simplistic. The pork comes as a single ball with a couple of bamboo shoots stuffed inside. The skin is tougher than other versions and it's already cut into four pieces, which will make eating and sharing a much easier task. 713 W. Duarte Road, (626) 254-0223

Old Country Café 3.50

Old Country is a San Gabriel Valley staple with more than two decades of residency. The ba wan sits in a thick pool of sweet red sauce and is garnished with a bit of parsley. The skin is softer here and the fillings, nicely seasoned with five-spice powder, are traditional: minced pork, long bamboo shoots and mushrooms. 2 E. Valley Blvd., Alhambra; (626) 284-4610