Photo by @minoba1982.

Baolicious ATL founder Elna Kolarich started out in the pop-up world as Sarap Atlanta in 2011 after seeing a lack of representation for Southeast Asian cuisine and deciding she could fill that gap with delicious Filipino food.

At that time, Filipino food was relatively new to the Atlanta food scene. However, Kolarich recognized that diners were interested in trying unfamiliar cuisine and she aimed to draw in customers by providing approachable small plates that presented new ingredients and flavors. While she has never had formal culinary training, she relies on her heritage and trial and error to find the perfect components for each dish.

Sarap Atlanta specialized in siopaos, which are Filipino steamed buns packed with various fillings and which are an evolution of the Chinese bao which were introduced to the Philippines by Chinese immigrants during the Spanish Colonial period. Siopaos is larger than other steam buns and eaten somewhat like a sandwich. The siopaos proved to be a hit for Sarap Atlanta and after realizing that they offer a great vehicle for fusion cuisine led to the creation of Baolicious, Kolarich decided to extend the dish beyond its traditional Filipino flavors. 

Baolicious was officially established in August, 2021, and it focuses on baos crafted with all handmade ingredients inspired from around the world. Kolarich wants each bao to present an experience, and the experience draws from dishes specific to a certain country. The result is that the variety of fillings on a typical Baolicious menu rival that of a sandwich shop. For example, Baolicious makes a ‘United States’ themed bao based on BBQ pulled pork and a ‘Korean’ themed bao with beef and chicken bulgogi. Other fillings include chicken asado, pork asado, thit kho (Vietnamese braised pork belly) and matcha Thai basil chicken. These baos provide a comforting yet novel feeling that Kolarich has always kept central to her cooking.

“Sometimes I’ll create something just because it’s fun,” notes Kolarich who previously created fillings like buffalo chicken dip or bacon, dates and blue cheese. Having lots of ideas for the future, Kolarich looks to continue to experiment and bring her fun and adventurous cuisine to Atlanta diners. 

Punk Foodie offers this weekly column about Punk Food, a moniker for a cuisine without defining or distinctive ingredients, techniques and dishes which is being born out of the increasing infusion of the diverse cultures and experiences that live in our city. Find out where Baolicious is popping up next and go deeper via Punk Foodie’s weekly guides and pop-up calendar

Although currently working in public health, Madalyn Nones has a passion for baking, farmers' markets, and grassroots food businesses.