Chinese Baos, How To Make Steamed Buns with Unique Fillings

Chinese steamed buns, known as "bao," are a beloved staple in Chinese cuisine. These fluffy and doughy treats are made by enclosing various fillings, such as meats, vegetables, or sweet ingredients, within a steamed bun. Bao has gained immense popularity both within China and around the world for its delightful taste and comforting texture. As a culinary phenomenon, Bao Bonanza takes the traditional art of bao-making to new heights. With a focus on unleashing creativity, Bao Bonanza aims to push boundaries by exploring unique and unexpected fillings, blending flavours from different cuisines, and reimagining bao as a canvas for culinary innovation.

The evolution of the bao bun in Chinese culture is closely linked to its predecessor, the plain steamed dumpling known as Mantou. Mantou is often compared to bread, and the development of filled baos, or baozi, was a natural progression from this humble beginning.

According to legend, Mantou was created by the renowned 3rd-century military strategist, Zhuge Liang. During his Southern Campaign to suppress a rebellion in what is now Sichuan province, Zhuge faced a formidable obstacle—a river guarded by a deity who demanded the heads of 50 soldiers for safe passage. To protect his troops while meeting the deity's demand, Zhuge devised a clever plan. He ordered buns shaped like human heads, with their flat bases and round shapes, to be thrown into the river. The deity was deceived, and safe passage was granted. In celebration of this victory, the buns were named Mantou, meaning "barbarian's heads."

Over time, Mantou transformed from a symbol of military triumph into a beloved culinary delight. The buns began to be filled with an array of flavourful meats and vegetables, creating the bao buns we know today. Although the original creator of the first bao is unknown, each region in China takes immense pride in their own traditional methods of making this bread-based snack. These regional differences are akin to the spirited debates found in the UK when discussing the distinctions between rolls, cobs, baps, barms, and barmcakes. The variations in bao preparation across China add to the rich tapestry of this beloved food, rooted in both ancient legend and culinary craftsmanship.

Traditional Bao Fillings

Traditional bao fillings encompass a wide range of flavours and ingredients. One classic filling is char siu, which consists of tender, marinated barbecue pork. This savoury and slightly sweet filling is a favourite among bao enthusiasts. Vegetarian options often feature a medley of stir-fried or braised vegetables, such as mushrooms, cabbage, and bamboo shoots, seasoned with soy sauce and fragrant spices. For those with a sweet tooth, custard-filled bao offers a delectable treat.

Cultural and regional variations further enrich the world of bao fillings. In different parts of China, regional specialties emerge, showcasing local ingredients and culinary traditions. For instance, Cantonese cuisine is known for its roast duck and egg custard fillings, while Shanghai-style bao may include savoury combinations like minced pork with crab roe. The diverse regional variations reflect the unique flavours and preferences found throughout China. These traditional bao fillings have stood the test of time and continue to be cherished for their nostalgic and comforting appeal.

5 Tips To Make Perfect Bao Buns At Home

Prepare a Soft and Elastic Dough: To make perfect bao buns, start by using a combination of all-purpose flour, yeast, sugar, and warm water. Knead the dough until it becomes soft and elastic, allowing it to rise in a warm place for optimal texture.

Give Adequate Proofing Time: After shaping the dough into buns, ensure they have enough time to proof. This process allows the yeast to work its magic, resulting in fluffy and airy bao buns. Cover the buns with a damp cloth and let them rise until they double in size.

Master the Pleating Technique: To achieve the classic bao shape, learn the pleating technique. Flatten the dough rounds, spoon the filling into the centre, and gather the edges to create a pleated seal. This technique ensures that the filling is securely enclosed within the bao buns.

Steaming Method and Time: Place the filled bao buns in a steamer lined with parchment paper or cabbage leaves. Steam the buns over high heat for around 15-20 minutes, ensuring that the steam circulates freely. This process cooks the buns thoroughly, resulting in soft and fully cooked bao.

Enjoy Fresh and Warm: Bao buns are best enjoyed fresh and warm. Serve them immediately after steaming for the ultimate experience. If you have leftovers, you can reheat them by steaming for a few minutes to restore their softness and warmth.



For the dough:

2 ½ cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon active dry yeast

1 cup warm water

For the vegetable filling:

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 carrot, julienned

1 cup cabbage, thinly sliced

½ cup mushrooms, sliced

1 tablespoon soy sauce

1 tablespoon hoisin sauce

Salt and pepper to taste


Prepare the Dough:

In a small bowl, dissolve the sugar and yeast in warm water. Let it sit for about 5 minutes until frothy.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the flour and the yeast mixture. Stir until the dough comes together.

Transfer the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 5-7 minutes until it becomes smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover it with a clean kitchen towel, and let it rise in a warm place for about 1-2 hours until it doubles in size.

Prepare the Vegetable Filling:

Heat vegetable oil in a pan over medium heat. Add minced garlic and chopped onion, and sauté until they turn translucent.

Add the julienned carrot, sliced cabbage, and mushrooms to the pan. Stir-fry for about 5-7 minutes until the vegetables become tender.

Stir in the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, salt, and pepper. Cook for another 2-3 minutes, allowing the flavours to blend. Remove from heat and let the filling cool.

Shape and Fill the Bao Buns:

Punch down the risen dough and transfer it to a floured surface. Divide it into small portions and roll each portion into a ball.

Flatten each ball with a rolling pin into a small circle, keeping the edges slightly thicker than the centre.

Place a spoonful of the vegetable filling in the centre of each circle. Gather the edges of the dough and pinch them together to seal, forming a bun shape.

Repeat this process until all the dough and filling are used.

Steam the Bao Buns:

Line a steamer basket with parchment paper or cabbage leaves to prevent sticking.

Arrange the filled bao buns in the steamer, leaving some space between them to allow for expansion.

Cover the steamer with a lid and let the buns rest for about 15 minutes to rise slightly.

Steam the buns over high heat for 15-20 minutes until they are puffed up and cooked through.

Serve and Enjoy:

Carefully remove the steamed bao buns from the steamer and serve them warm.

These vegetable bao buns can be enjoyed as a snack, appetizer, or as part of a meal. They can be served as is or with a dipping sauce of your choice.

Now you can savour your homemade vegetable bao buns, filled with a delicious medley of sautéed vegetables. Enjoy the soft and fluffy texture combined with the flavoursome vegetable filling.