Pineapple bun served with a thick slab of butter.
A thick slab of butter sandwiched in the middle of a freshly made pineapple bun. (Photo Credit: 祥香園餐廳的菠蘿油. A slice of butter inserted in ‘pineapple bun’, Hong Kong style by Flickr user denniswong, original image has been adapted)

Pineapple bun, also known as bo lo bao in Cantonese, is a popular pastry in Hong Kong. You can find it in most Chinese bakeries overseas too. It is a pillowy soft bread with a buttery, sugary crust on top. A good pineapple bun must have a crust that has a gorgeous golden brown colour and a slightly crunchy texture. Believe it or not, traditional pineapple buns contain no pineapple. Its name actually comes from the criss cross pattern of the top crust that resembles a pineapple.

To have a true bo lo bao experience in Hong Kong, you’ve got to try it at a local diner known as cha chaan teng. It is a local eatery that serves comfort food, which is mostly born and bred in Hong Kong, at affordable prices. Almost every cha chaan teng serves pineapple bun in one form or another that will satisfy your cravings throughout the day. Here are a few versions of pineapple bun you can find in Hong Kong:

  1. A classic pineapple bun in all its sugary glory.
  2. The bun served with a thick slab of butter stuffed in the middle, known as bo lo yao in Cantonese. This can be the most popular way to consume this bun.
  3. The bun filled with BBQ pork, known as char siu bo lo bao.
  4. The bun with sweet fillings, such as custard and red bean paste.
  5. Pineapple bun sandwiches – i.e. a pineapple bun is halved and toasted and topped with various fillings, including but not limited to, sunny side up fried egg, tomato, and pork chop.

Tips for Eating a Pineapple Bun

The crumbly, buttery top may make you want to take a bite into the pineapple bun. But how and where exactly should you start?

  • To hold the bun:
    • You can use one hand, using your thumb and index or middle finger to hold the side of the fluffy bread part while other fingers to support its bottom.
    • You can also use two hands, using your thumb and index finger to pinch each side of the fluffy bread.
  • To eat the bun:
    • You can take a big bite, ensuring you’ve got both the bread and crust. This is the best way to enjoy the bun as each bite gets the best of both worlds.
    • You can eat from top, devouring only the buttery crust and then the fluffy bread. I used to eat pineapple buns this way when I was small, and discreetly discard the bland bread afterward.
    • You can eat from bottom, saving the crust (with a bit of bread attached to it) for last. This takes skills and practice in order not to break the crust.
  • You should always have the whole pineapple bun to yourself because any attempt to cut the bun will crumble the buttery crust and ruin the fluffy texture of the bread.

Did You Know?

Pineapple buns have made it to the first list of Hong Kong’s intangible cultural heritage that was published in 2014. The city vowed to safeguard pineapple buns (the technique of making them, to be precise) and the other 470+ items on the list. You can also work on your technique and make your own pineapple buns at home.

Though there is no pineapple in traditional pineapple buns, some pineapple lovers out there have created a way to add pineapples to the buns.

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About Anna de Waard-Leung

Anna loves her heels, wine, and food - in that exact order. Her latest food addictions include Shiraz Mourvèdre, chicken tikka masala, sushi, and ossenworst (a raw beef sausage originating in Amsterdam).


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