Bao buns have recently taken over the food scene. We are not only being bombarded by it on restaurant menus. Everyone from food influencers to stay-at-home cooks is making their version of this deliciously tasty bun. However, what exactly is a bao bun, and who invented it?
What Is A bao bun?
Bao Buns, commonly called steamed buns, are a tasty, slightly sweet white dough filled with stuffing. Bao buns are typically made with flour, yeast, sugar, baking powder, milk or water, and oil. Some people have compared bao buns to dumplings, but the main difference is the level of sweetness.
Where Did Bao Buns Originate?
The exact date bao was born is still unknown. Some believe it was introduced to China during the third century around the age of the Three Kingdoms period. While other historians believe they existed before this era due to a delicacy that resembled bao in 400 BC.
As the tale goes, Zhuge Laing, a heroic military expert regarded for his strategic skills, was responsible for bao's popularity. After overthrowing a king Laing and his troops started the journey back to their native land. They came across a river that was unsafe to cross. A local man told the legend of his ancestors sacrificing men and tossing those heads in the river as a peace offering to their God.
Wanting to ease his platoon's suffering without sacrificing them, Laing improvised. Laing came up with the brilliant idea to make human head replicas out of steamed wheat buns stuffed with meat. He threw the bao into the river. The deity fell in love with the delicious, steamed buns so much that he parted the rough waters of the river to allow Laing and his en to cross. As a result, mantou or barbarians head was born.
By the time the 10th century filled around, montou had morphed into filling-free steamed bread rolls. In contrast, bao grew to be its own unique dish because it was stuffed with several ingredients.
No one can definitively say whether the legends are the truth or a fable. However, we can be sure of bao's rise to stardom throughout the northern regions of China. Wheat was cultivated in vast amounts in these regions. Thus, bao became a staple part of their diet.
What Do Bao Buns Look Like?
Although we cannot directly link bao buns to Lang's creation, they share similar characteristics. Contradictory to small, steamed dumplings believed to be correlated with dim sum, bao buns are larger, almost the size of a balled fist with a sweeter flavor. Boa buns also have a white color, thanks to the addition of milk. Additionally, the bai dough can be contoured into many shapes prior to stuffing and steaming them for 8-10 minutes until the bao has puffed up into cloud-like structures.
Traditionally, bao buns resembled miniature pouches decorated with petite pleats that were shaped into a round snowball. But, as bao became expanded its reach outside of China, new detailed shapes began to appear. One example of this is Hirata bao. This version of boa is probably the most popular variant in the Western world. First, the bao dough is rolled into a flat round. Next, the filling is arranged on one side of the Dough, and the remaining bao dough is folded over it to create a sandwich - ike bao.
Bao Bun Filling
When it comes to bao bun fillings, anything you can think of, you can use as a filling. The most popular filling is char siu barbecue pork. However, there are many versions of this beloved treasure. From tempura shrimp and pickled vegetables to mushrooms and jackfruit, the combinations are endless. Some bao buns are pan-fried until a golden crispy crust develops. As long as the flavors of the ingredients complement each other, it will taste delicious stuffed into a soft pillow bao bun.
Bao buns have obviously become popular with good reason. Though the inventor of bao buns is unclear, we are so thankful that this delicious delicacy was discovered.