The old Chinese man disappears behind the giant bamboo baskets filled with steaming snowy white, pillowy baozi. Every morning, he is selling his delicate treasures to passers-by on their way to work.

Snowy white baozi are such a beautiful sight (Photo Credit: Baozi in Shenyang by Flickr user xiaozhuli)
Snowy white baozi are such a beautiful sight (Photo Credit: Baozi in Shenyang by Flickr user xiaozhuli)

All over China, this scene is repeated endlessly. This portable snack or meal is definitely the king of street food in Asia. Baozi, literally “little bag”, is a bun made with flour and yeast , filled with various preparations, and steamed in bamboo baskets. It is a popular dish and widely available on street stalls. While they can be eaten at any meal, baozi or simply bao are often eaten for breakfast.

The history of the steamed bun goes back thousands of years and can be traced to the Jin Dynasty. Legend has it that Zhu Geliang in the Three Kingdoms Period replaced a real human head with an object made of flour and meat shaped as a human head for the memorial ceremony of the Lushui River. This offering was called Steamed bun head. The tradition continued during the Jin Dynasty, using large size bao stuffed with meat. In the Tang and Song Dynasty, steamed buns were smaller and sometimes without the stuffing. Its popularity spread throughout Asia along with the Chinese marchants and immigrants, taking different names in Malaysia, Vietnam, Thaïland, Japan, and the Philippines.

Sweet Baozi in Beijing night market
Sweet Baozi in the Beijing night market are a nice treat. (Photo Credit: Christine Cognieux)

Here are the basics of Baozi to help you differentiate the main varieties. The first five are all eaten on the go, holding them with your hands, bite after bite !

  • Dabao or “big bun” measures about 10 centimetres and is served individually. It is the most popular portable snack or meal. Its consistency is fluffier and is generally stuffed with pork meat or vegetables for the salty version, or with a red bean purée for the sweet version. Eat it on the go, bite after bite, holding it with your hands !
  • The Chashaobao or manapua is a typical cantonese version, filled with barbecue-flavoured pork. You will find this type in the Guangdong province of China and in Hong Kong.
  • The Malay form of the baozi is called pau. It is stuffed with potato curry, chicken curry, or beef curry. Some variants might even have a quail egg in the middle.
  • The Vietnamese equivalent is named Banh bao.
  • In Hawaii, it is called manapua.

The following types are all eaten using chopsticks, usually in one bite. Remember never to stick your chopsticks in one of them. It would be taken as an insult by the restaurant owner!

  • Xiaobao or “small bun” measures about 5 centimetres wide and are served in a steamer containing, usually, three pieces. They are commonly eaten in restaurants but can also be purchased as take-away. Soy sauce, dark vinegar, chili paste, and fresh ginger are provided as condiments to dip the bao into, using chopsticks.
  • In Shanghai, the xialongbao is a small baozi filled with a juicy broth and served with a straw. After “drinking” the delicious broth, you can eat the bun using your chopsticks.
  • One of my favorite, the zhimahbao, is a steamed small bun filled with a black sesame paste. This sweet variety is generally eaten at the end of the meal, as a desert.
  • In occidental countries, the baozi becomes wonton, dumplings or even ravioli.

Whatever the names, Bao is on the rise, and it is not just because of its dough. From New York to Paris, London or Sydney, this pillowy bun is becoming the new star of the modern street food, appearing on the menus of the trendiest food trucks. So, what is your favorite type?

Related Posts

About Christine Cognieux

Christine is a life enthusiast, attracted to happiness, creativity and beauty in everything. It is not because she is French that she loves Fashion but she does. Photographing her food is becoming a habit of hers!

Connect

Twitter Facebook More Posts...

6 Responses to "How to Eat: Baozi"

  1. Anne  22/08/2015

    Thanks to my Vietnamese origins, my favorite is the Banh Bao … his chineses cousin Baozi is interesting , but after three years spent in Shanghai, I especially like the “xiaolongbao” and their delicate juice and the “wonton” soup! Thank you Christine for your delicious post!

    Reply
    • Christine Cognieux  25/08/2015

      Hello Anne,

      Thank you for your nice comment. Vietnam is definitely on top of my must-visit countries’ list but the vietnamese cuisine is already a favorite !

      Reply
  2. cathy  28/08/2016

    When you see them at the market, with the fresh daily bakery goods( non refrigerated) can you eat them right off or do you need to steam them again?

    Reply
    • Christine Cognieux  29/08/2016

      Hi Cathy, You need to steam them for about 8 minutes then let them cool off for about 5 minutes before eating. You can also heat them up in the microwave with a moist towel for about 1 minute. Again let them cool off before you savor them. Enjoy!

      Reply
  3. Pingback: Top Food Tips from Around the World | Travel Gluttons

  4. Pingback: The Best Food to Wake up With: Breakfast in Hong Kong - Travel Gluttons

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.