Ah Ma’s will have you saying bao wow

Around+the+World+on+80+Plates+Series%2C+Installment+%238+Taiwan

Around the World on 80 Plates Series, Installment #8 Taiwan

Reilly Blum

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AROUND THE WORLD: All of Ah Ma’s appetizers were tasty, but the sweet potato balls, shown on the left, were by far the most scrumptious. A crispy exterior perfectly combated the chewy, doughy interior, and within minutes everyone sitting at my table lamented the size of our party; there simply weren’t enough of the sweet potato balls to keep us satisfied.

To be frank, Rice Box was not my favorite restaurant. All it took to turn my back forever was a mediocre meal and a horror story involving insects and takeout. And though I generally despair when restaurants close and Atlanta is left with fewer places for me to dine, I must admit that I was more than pleased when Rice Box shut its doors for good.

When Ah-Ma’s Taiwanese Kitchen opened in the same space, I could hardly wait to visit. I had never sampled Taiwanese cuisine and practically leaped with joy at the opportunity to do so. I was thrilled to visit a new restaurant in close proximity to Grady–if Ah Ma’s proved itself, then perhaps I would become an after-school regular.

Ah Ma’s had a modern, upscale vibe. The L-shaped space was filled with several individual tables and a single large community table, where I took my seat.

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DON’T BE A CHICKEN: The peppery fried chicken, mixed with crispy strips of kale, was as tasty as any I’d ever had.

A waiter quickly came to assist my table, and within minutes I had made my order.

First to arrive was a bowl of piping hot sweet potato balls. These fried bits of heaven harmoniously combined both salty and sweet elements. Each was slightly crispy on the outside, and had a doughy, mochi-like texture on the inside. The crispy exterior seemed to be coated with cinnamon sugar, but was faintly salty nonetheless. Surely, I decided after nearly licking the bowl clean, this is the finest way to cook a potato.

I then sampled a bowl of crispy fried salt and pepper chicken. Never had I imagined that chicken could be so crispy on the outside and still so moist on the inside. Each tendril of chicken was spicy, but perfectly so. The chicken, cut into thin strips that varied in width, was perhaps the crispiest I’ve ever eaten. An audible crunch followed each bite.

Despite these scrumptious starters, the star of my meal was the pork belly bao. The folded white dough, which resembled a layer of the Michelin Man, contained a generous slab of rich pork belly sprinkled with cilantro and ground peanuts. After a bit of confusion as to the correct method of eating it, I soon discovered that bao is essentially a Taiwanese version of the taco, and I ate it with my hands. The creamy pork belly melted in my mouth, and the ground peanut added a faintly sweet contrast to the pork belly’s overwhelming umami. Though at first glance the dough appeared undercooked, it was actually quite fluffy and light. It tasted like a crumpet but had the consistency of angel food cake.

A word to the wise: my bao was quite rich. I think an appetizer and a bao would certainly be a sufficient meal—after splitting several appetizers with the rest of my table and eating my bao, I felt like I needed to lie down before I popped out of my pants.

Ah Ma’s served up a delicious variety of the exotic and the familiar. The fried chicken was as good as (if not better than) any I’d ever had, and the sweet potato balls provided an interesting take on a common vegetable. The bao, however, was outstanding. The fluffy dough, rich pork belly and finely ground peanuts made my tastebuds sing.