Chinese cuisine is a favorite worldwide, and one of the most popular Chinese dishes is the bao bun. It comes in a variety of shapes, sizes, and tastes, commonly served in dim sum restaurants and stalls in Chinatown.
You may think bao buns are the same as dumplings or dim sum, but they are actually a unique and distinct type of dish. To understand the differences between these delicious treats, you can check out my guide on Bao Vs Dumpling Vs Dimsum.
So, what is a bao bun and what makes it different from other dim sum dishes? In this guide, we talk about how bao buns are made in terms of dough, filling, and cooking process. You will also learn about its types, serving suggestions, and nutritional facts.
What Is A Bao Or Bao Bun?
Bao is referred to as baozi, bao bun, or steamed buns. The pronunciation of “bao buns” in English is /baʊ bʌnz/. It is a Chinese dish that has existed since the Song dynasty. Initially, it was called “mantou” to refer to unfilled buns.
It first originated in the Northern Chinese city of Xi’an. Nowadays, bao buns are available in Chinese restaurants and Chinatowns around the world. It is loved for its soft and fluffy texture, as well as its savory and mildly sweet taste.
Bao buns can be either half-open or fully sealed. It is a fluffy treat that uses white-leavened dough and is stuffed with a meat or vegetable filling. You can eat buns with chopsticks or simply by hand.
What Are The Ingredients Of A Bao Bun Dough?
How is the white bun made? The bao dough is made with yeast, wheat flour, sugar, and water. In some variations, baking powder and milk are also added.
It generally needs a yeast-leavened dough to make it rise and achieve its light and puffy texture after steaming. Once cooked, the texture becomes bread-like and chewy. For your information, it is different from a dumpling that has a denser texture.
What Is A Bao Bun Filling?
To go with the fluffy buns, a sweet or savory filling is stuffed at the center. It is common to use minced pork as a filling. However, nowadays, you will find different minced fillings such as chicken, beef, tofu, mushrooms, vegetables, and fish.
Some bao buns are topped with a light sauce to complement the flavors. Generally, the bun itself is slightly sweet, which pairs well with a savory filling. The overall taste will depend on the type of bao you are going for.
How Are Bao Buns Cooked?
Cooking bao buns usually requires steaming. In most dim sum restaurants, it is steamed using bamboo steamer baskets for a great woody aroma. Aside from steaming, some variations cook bao buns by baking or pan-frying.
What Are The Types Of Bao Bun?
Bao buns have different types and differ in cooking style, filling, and taste. The bun style is also categorized according to open and closed. Some buns are left halfway open, which is known as open bao.
Open bao buns are folded in half with a filling at the center, whereas closed bao buns are completely wrapped and sealed without a visible filling.
Here are some examples of types of bao bun:
- Xiaolongbao – Filled with meat and broth wrapped in thin, partially leavened dough
- Cha Siu bao – Filled with char siu or barbecue-flavored filling
- Tangbaozi – Filled with soup and is eaten using a straw
- Shuijianbao – Filled with pork and gelatin that melts in your mouth, typically pan-fried
- Doushabao – Filled with sweet bean paste
- Lianrongbao – Filled with sweet lotus seed paste, also called lotus seed bun
- Kaya-baozi – Filled with Kaya
- Big Pau – Filled with pork and eggs, usually a large Chinese steamed bun
- Gua bao – An open bao with pork belly and is also known as a pork belly bun.
How To Eat Bao Bun Dishes
What you’ll love about bao buns is that you can enjoy them at any time of day. Generally, a bao bun is an excellent snack or meal for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is already perfect on its own, but it also pairs well with a delicious side dish or sauce.
Bao buns go perfectly with salad or vegetables that are stir-fried, pickled, or steamed. You can also eat it with another main dish, such as dumplings, congee, and spring rolls. When eaten alone, it tastes even better with a flavorful sauce, like sriracha, soy sauce, sweet and sour, hoisin dipping sauce, or soy and sesame sauce.
Is Bao Gluten Free?
If we’re talking about the traditional bao dough, it is made from wheat flour. Wheat contains gluten which acts as a binder to hold the ingredients together. Moreover, it also gives the bun a stretchy and chewy consistency.
Thus, a traditional bao made from wheat flour is not gluten-free and is not suitable for those with gluten sensitivities. However, you can make your own gluten-free bao bun using a few alternatives that can still give that chewy and soft texture of a traditional bao bun. Some great gluten-free substitutes for wheat flour are rice flour, tapioca flour, or potato starch.
Are Bao Buns Healthy?
Are bao buns healthy for the body? It is difficult to answer this question with a simple yes or no since it depends on the filling or the type of bao. It is considered a healthy meal if it contains all the essential nutrients you need, is eaten in moderation, and is sufficient to meet your dietary needs per meal.
If we check the nutritional content of the bao bun alone without the filling, it contains yeast, wheat flour, sugar, and water. Yeast-enriched foods are known to be good for the body since they contain protein, folate, iron, phosphorus, and B vitamins. Meanwhile, wheat flour also contains B vitamins, fiber, and protein.
When it comes to the filling, it depends on whether it is fatty, sweet, or full of veggies. Of course, if you eat a lot of pork belly buns, it is not considered a healthy choice since pork is high in fat. Some variations, such as Doushabao and Lianrongbao, are considered a snack or side dish only and cannot be eaten as the main meal since it won’t be sufficient to meet your nutritional needs per meal.
What Do You Love About Bao Buns?
In summary, bao buns are made using fermented yeast dough and are filled with a variety of fillings, from savory pork to sweet bean paste and hearty soup. It is a perfect snack or meal for any time of the day. You can have it in dim sum restaurants or grab one on the go.