If there’s one yum cha dish I can’t resist, it’s char siu bao or steamed BBQ pork buns. More heavy and doughy than all of the other dishes, it’s a bit too filling and only leaves so much room for trying everything else, but I don’t even care. That balance of sweet and salty is just irresistible, oddly straddling the line between savoury and dessert.
My in-laws must have been experimenting with making their own BBQ pork recently, because they dropped off two huge chunks of the stuff. I’ve never had the patience to make it myself, settling for buying it from the local Chinese BBQ house, but home-cooked char siu really is something special. I reserved half of it to attempt to make my own bao.
I was double lazy and used a pre-mixed bao flour (I’m sure you can get this from any Chinese or Vietnamese grocery store), which I then combined with water and a whole lot of white sugar. For the filling I followed Rasa Malaysia’s recipe, which besides the char siu includes oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, red food colouring and more sugar. A healthy dish this is certainly not!
Whenever I knead dough, especially for bao, I think of this scene from Shaolin Soccer (obviously I’m not so graceful). After resting the dough and dividing it into portions, I rolled each out and filled with the sweet red filling. I can’t for the life of me pleat these things, and just sort of roughly smooshed the tops together – not pretty, but it got the job done! I tried making some half-size buns, which are the perfect size for a snack.
We don’t have a proper steamer, so I settled for doing one bamboo basket at a time sitting over water on a wok, then covered with a big wok lid. Each set of three or four took ten minutes to steam; I learned on the second batch that letting the water go at less than a simmer leads to dense, gluggy buns. The rest, thankfully, rose marvellously into the soft, fluffy clouds I wanted. Not exactly perfect or pretty, but still pretty damn good. Perfect with a cup of Chinese tea on a rainy weekend.
I had intended to make a comeback in terms of food styling, but the effort of cooking just took it out of me and this was the best I could muster! More picturesque food experiments will be happening soon..