Bao or Baozi (Chinese) are deliciously light steamed yeast buns that serve as a vehicle for various fillings. An ancient street food that is on trend today!
With their origins in China they have spread throughout Asia and wherever there is an established Chinese community in the rest of the world.
Bao are either small, round, cushion-like buns with a pleated closure on top, filled prior to steaming or they are semi-circular pockets that are filled after steaming.
As they have been adopted in the various regions of China and other Asian countries the names of Bao may have changed and sometimes the name also indicates the filling. For example Cha Sui Bao is typical of Cantonese cuisine, it’s filled with char siu pork and commonly served in Hong Kong.
You will find variations in Korea, Thailand, Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia and Myanmar! Muslim countries of South East Asia have adapted the filling recipes to meet halhaal requirements.
Many years ago I enjoyed my first bao, pork filled Banh Bao in Vietnam.
Bao has been served in New York for as many years as there has been a Chinese community. I enjoyed delicious buns at a delightful Dim Sum restaurant in NYC’s China Town.
In the 2000’s it was apparently New York based Michelin Star chef Momofuku who popularized Bao in Asian style restaurants in America.
Now Bao has become a firm favourite in many restaurants or delis purveying Asian cuisine worldwide!
A few years ago I learnt to make Boa when I did a Dim Sum course and never made them since, but Covid lockdown brings out creativity in the kitchen so I decided to try them again.
This was such a winner it will definitely become a regular in my repertoire!
It is a simple yeast dough, preferably mixed in the food processor. You will also need a steamer. I like the authentic Chinese Steamers that you buy in many equipment stores or in your local Asian market.
The fillings for Bao are typical Chinese flavours. I enjoy either Chinese Barbeque Pork or Chicken. Peking Style Duck, Prawns or strips of fried fish are also delicious. Besides the protein element add crisp vegetables such as strips of carrot, cucumber, shredded lettuce, bean sprouts, spring onions and chopped chilli. In Vietnam you get a pile of fragrant fresh herbs.
If you are not keen on consuming carbs this dish is not for you! The buns are naturally high in carbs and the filling has sugar and honey….. but as with all wicked foods, it’s worth the occasional treat!
In Chinese and other Asian restaurants you will see various fillings including sweet bean curd and custard fillings.
On a chilly winter’s night I put the steamed buns, a bowl of sticky barbecue pork, spring onions and crisp sprouts on a table in front of the fire for guests to help themselves.