The Taiwanese hamburger.. Chinese sandwich.. Pork belly bun.. Tiger bites pig.. Steamed bao.. Or simply, bao. Whatever you may call them, they are a Taiwanese street food that seems to have hit a core with food fans & chefs across the globe. Whether it’s happened because of the increasing popularity of places like David Chang’s Momofuku or it’s the curiosity of Western palates wanting to know more about Asian or Taiwanese street food, who knows?! I truly doubt that the chewy, salty, sweet and puffy ‘guabao sandwich’ concept is going anywhere except further into our mouths and stomachs over the coming years.
They definitely take a bit of time & prep work but considering they can get quite expensive at restaurants & such, you’ll be saving a lot of pennies & can really experiment with the fillings by making your own. When I was making them the first time, and after trying to ‘cheat’ (by using a packet flour mix recipe), I found the buns to be way too sweet for my liking. Making them yourself from scratch is definitely worth the effort & isn’t particularly troublesome. I adapted the recipe below from another that used shortening (which I don’t particularly like) and found that the bao buns turned out exactly as I wanted. I can’t say they’re 100% authentic, but I got a thumbs up from Eva at our Chinese New Year party… and she’s from Taiwan. So that’s good enough for me!
As for the filling, I was initially tempted to head away from the norm by throwing in some kimchi & bulgogi, Cantonese char sui or some grilled tofu but in the end I went with something a little more traditional. Knowing that several of my guests at the party were potentially watching their cholesterol levels & slim waistlines, I knew they wouldn’t be wanting to chomp on a juicy fatty piece of belly pork (even though it would taste so gooood!). I decided to use and braise a piece of shoulder meat that I could make an ever so slightly healthier pulled pork from.
To accompany the pork, I wanted to make sure I had some crunch & a bit of colour. I made some quickly pickled cucumber, added fresh coriander, some spring onion and some peanut powder (though this was only the following day because Eva had a great lightbulb-idea suggestion to simply crush up my leftover candied peanuts.. why didn’t I think of this, duh?!) Anyway, I also added some finely sliced fresh chilli to mine, but understandably some folk aren’t fans of a spice kick, so just add as you wish.
Whatever you decide to stuff them with, have a go at these pillowy buns! They’ll keep for a while & you can always add different herbs and fillings like you can with a sandwich. Just keep in mind that a mixture of textures definitely give it that edge.
Adapted from this recipe by Use Real Butter
400ml warm water
1 tbsp instant/active yeast
750g plain all purpose flour
1 tbsp baking powder
2 tbsps vegetable oil
(As the dough may be too wet/dry, have an extra 1 cup of water and 1 cup of flour at hand for later)
- Combine the sugar & water in a measuring jug and then add the yeast. Leave the liquid for about 10minutes until it starts to foam.
- In a large bowl, add the flour & baking powder. Whisk together and then gradually add the oil & liquid yeast mix.
- Combine well with your hands and if it feels too sticky & wet, add some of the extra flour. Or if it feels too dry, add some water.
- Using one hand, hold the bowl & with the other hand, knead the dough for about 5-10minutes. It should all come together into a large smooth dough ball.
- Cover the bowl with cling film and leave to rise in a warm place for 2-3 hours. It should triple in size.
Making the Bao
The recipe above makes about 40 small/medium ‘baos’ but of course if you want bigger ones, then make them a bit bigger! You could of course also stuff them with whatever meat, vegetable, bean paste etc filling, then seal at the top & steam them to make baozi.
Plain flour for surface dusting
Large baking sheet, loosely covered with cling film
40 squares of parchment paper, 2″x”3″
- Very lightly dust your work surface with some plain flour, and tip the dough onto it.
- If needed, lightly knead till it’s smooth and elastic again.
- Cut the dough into 4 equal log sections, then place 3 of them under the cling film covered baking sheet for later.
- Cut the quarter section of dough into 10. Using the flat of your hands, press one small piece of dough into an oval shaped disc, approximately 2″ across.
- Lightly fold the oval dough disc in half, across it’s slightly longer side, without squeezing & sealing it together. Place on a piece of parchment paper & set aside on the baking sheet .
- Repeat with the remaining pieces of dough & the other quarter sections.
- In batches, steam the buns with at least 1″ of space between them for about 10 minutes. They will expand so don’t crowd the steamer!
- Serve warm & stuffed with some juicy fillings! If you want to prepare them in advance, steam & cool them, then store in a tuppaware container or large ziplock in the fridge up to 5 days. When needed, just quickly re-steam (or microzap them) for a couple of minutes. I haven’t tried but I’m certain you could also freeze them without any issues & then re-steam, especially as you can buy them at grocery stores like this.
2kg bone-in pork shoulder, with skin removed
230ml/1 cup Shaoxing wine
4tbsp light soy sauce
4tbsp dark soy sauce
3 spring onions, chopped into 2″ lengths
3 tbsp white sugar
1 tsp five spice powder
1 cinnamon stick
4 star anise
3 slices of fresh ginger
4 cloves of garlic
1 birds eye chilli (completely optional)
- In a large heavy bottomed pot, add the pork and all the ingredients. Just cover the pork with about 5 cups of water & heat till simmering.
- Cover & reduce the heat to simmer on low for about 2hours, when the pork is tender & easily falls apart.
- Shred the pork from the bone & serve warm
Chopped spring onion
Pickled cucumber slices
Crushed candied peanuts
Quick ‘Pickled’ Cucumbers
2 tbsp white sugar
1 tbsp salt (I used Maldon sea salt flakes)
- Finely slice the cucumbers
- In a large ziplock bag, mason jar or tuppaware container, add sugar & salt to the sliced cucumbers.
- Leave for a couple of hours or overnight till needed.