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Shuijianbao: A Tasty Exotic Meal

Written by Luisa Davis on . Posted in food

There is no better way to experience another’s culture than by partaking in their cuisine. Whether you’re alone and bored or getting a group together for a backyard party after a long day’s work, this recipe for shuijianbao pan fried pork buns is the recipe that can help you achieve just that.

Shuijianbao (Chinese:水煎包), more commonly referred to as pan fried pork buns, make an easy-to-prepare meal with sumptuous fillings. Each piece, or more accurately, each bun, is about the size of a golf ball.

A pan-fried pork bun may also be called a Chinese fried bun. These Chinese meat buns are filled with a delectable mixture of chives, pork, white pepper, cornstarch, and dried shrimps. Frying the buns on a pan gives forms a tender and brittle base on the bottom while the steamed top remains chewy.

For those with concerns regarding the dried shrimp included in this recipe, know that the shrimp gives the pan-fried pork buns just the right taste and aroma (that umami flavor) without overpowering them with an overly shrimpy taste. I’d better dig into the art of preparing this cuisine before I get carried away. But first things first—let’s talk about where this dish started.

Shuijianbao – A brief history

Shuijianbao is a cuisine that originated from North China. It is recorded that one of the emperors, Zhuge Liang, introduced the meal to China in his time of power. These Chinese meat buns were originally considered a variation of Chinese mantou, which are a type of buns with no fillings.

This bun was then introduced in many other countries.

The dish was introduced to Taiwan during the mass expedition of Chiang Kai Shek’s Kuomintang army during the late 1940s. Chiang’s army was mainly from the region of Yangtze, his hometown in the Zhejiang province. The inflow of these troops and their families into Taiwan influenced both social life and the culinary art of the locals.

Among other edible delicacies introduced to Taiwan were the recherche shuijianbao, or pan fried pork buns, which could be enjoyed by both the young and the elderly. The dish is still enormously popular in Taiwan and is available in almost all Chinese restaurants over there.

Shuijianbao, aside from being a favorite breakfast choice in China, Taiwan, and Indonesia, is also the perfect snack to get you by on a busy day. The dish can be served alone or alongside a dipping sauce. Syrups like orange syrup and the ever-delightful maple syrup can also be drizzled over pan fried pork buns.

The journey to perfect the shuijianbao recipe started in China (it only seems natural that this quest starts from where it began), but now this quest has spread to other parts of the world, especially in other Asian countries. It makes sense—I mean who wouldn’t want to put their own spin on this yummy goodness?

This dish belongs to the food family of baozi or bao ( Chinese: 包子) in China. The baozi food family consists of buns that have been stuffed. The dough of these buns is made with yeast, thus giving them a bread-like feel. In the case of the shuijianbao, the filling of the bun consists of minced pork, some veggies, and spices. Other types of baozi could have vegetarian fillings or varieties of meat.

We call them pan fried pork buns because the buns themselves are pan-fried when raw before being steamed immediately afterward with a splash of water and flour on the same pan.

There are different culinary techniques you can use to carry out this process. Traditionally, chefs will steam the buns over water. They are oftentimes prepared in a large pan in the presence of a waiting line of customers, having thereby earned their popularity as a tasty street food.

The Mouth-watering Chinese pork buns

These Chinese meat buns are mouth-watering porky-goodness with a soft yet crispy dough, offering the best of both worlds in terms of texture.

Ingredient list

Ingredients for the dough:

  • 2 and a half cup of all-purpose flour (plus a little extra for dusting and kneading).
  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil or peanut oil.
  • 2 tablespoons of baking powder.
  • 1 tablespoon of salt.
  • 2 tablespoons of icing sugar (optional).
  • Half a teaspoon of instant dried yeast.
  • 3/4 cup of warm water.

Ingredients for the filling:

  • 500 grams of minced pork.
  • 1/2 a tablespoon of white pepper (and extra to taste). Not a fan? You can stick to black pepper though I really recommend white pepper.
  • 1 tablespoon of dried juvenile shrimps (shrimpling).
  • 1 and a half tablespoons of cornstarch (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons of sesame oil.
  • A handful of chopped chives. This should be able to fill a cup.
  • 1 tablespoon of salt.
  • Water.
  • 5 teaspoons of rice wine.
  • 1 teaspoon of light soy sauce. Some people also add dark soy sauce.
  • A cabbage head.

Ingredients for the cooking process:

  • 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  • 1/4 cup of water.
  • 2 bulbs of spring onions, which should be finely chopped.
  • 2 bulbs of leeks (optional, as they can be used in place of the spring onions or in combination. The quantity should be reduced when both the spring onions and leeks are used together).
  • Toasted sesame seeds (I suggest you use your own discretion regarding the quantity).
  • 1/3 cup of water with 1 and 1/2 tablespoons of all-purpose or plain flour (blend to form a mixture).

Ingredients for dipping sauce:

1 teaspoon of black vinegar, half a teaspoon of ginger, some light soy sauce, plus 1 and 1/2 teaspoon of chili oil. Mix well.

Instructions:

  1. Season the minced pork with the salt, chives, corn starch, white pepper, sesame oil, and rice wine. Allow the pork mixture to marinate overnight in the refrigerator. Chop the cabbage into very fine pieces and add a pinch of salt, rubbing it onto the cabbage. Leave this for about 15 minutes to prevent water loss which can happen after wrapping.
    Squeeze any water out of the cabbage, sieving it, then add it to the other filling ingredients. Now you can add the chopped ginger and chives to the pork mixture. Blend well and lay aside. Note that a little water should be added to the minced pork to moisturize it and make it extra bouncy.
  2. Add the yeast to warm water and allow to dissolve for about 10 minutes or so. A little olive oil or peanut oil should be added to the yeast mixture as well.
  3. When making the dough for the wraps, pour the dough into a mixing bowl alongside the icing sugar, baking powder, all-purpose flour, and salt, then blend everything together.
  4. Combine the yeast mixture with the dried ingredients, then knead on a flour-dusted surface for about 10 minutes until it is consistent and elastic. Put this aside to rise in an oiled bowl for 60 minutes, until it increases in volume about double the original size.
  5. Beat down the risen dough and knead it for about 5 minutes. Divide the dough into two equal halves and leave one half in the bowl, keeping it covered to retain the moisture. Divide the other half of the dough into 16 portions, rolling each piece into balls the size of a golf ball.
  6. Scoop 1 teaspoon of filling into the middle of a dough ball and enclose or fold the edges in a circular fashion to form a bun. You can also make a plaiting folding, which makes for a finer looking bun. Folding the dough to form a bun can be a little daunting and time-wasting if you’re unfamiliar with the folding technique, but no worries, you will get the hang of it. Imitate this process for the remaining dough and fillings.
    Note: you can place the plaited or folded side downwards if you so choose, but ensure the plaiting is properly done to prevent any of the juice from leaking out of the filling.
  7. Heat up the olive oil in a saucepan, preferably in a non-stick flat saucepan. Place the buns in the heated pan while allowing for small gaps between each successive bun for expansion during the steaming process. The buns should be left for proofing in the pan and covered for about 15 minutes.
  8. At this stage, the buns should be left to steam on medium heat and pan-fried for about 4 to 7 minutes until the base forms that awesome golden brown color. The trick is to ensure that the pan is evenly or uniformly heated. Ah! Let’s not forget the crispy feel this base should provide.
  9. Remove the lid and turn the flour and water mixture on the bottom of the pan, producing a bubbling sensation. The lid should be immediately replaced and the buns allowed to steam for about 9-15 minutes, or better still, until they produce a cracking noise signifying the drying up of the water. The lid should be partially opened at first to allow some of the steam escape before it is completely opened, gradually introducing the flossy buns to room temperature. This prevents the deflating of the bun and keeps it smooth.
  10. I specifically like this last step of preparation: generously sprinkle and garnish the top of the buns with finely chopped leeks or spring onions and toasted sesame seeds. The residual steam from the pan helps the toppings stick to the buns, enhancing both the flavor and looks. Serve promptly with the dipping sauce of your choice or the one described earlier.

Dishes Offering A Similar Flavor Thrill To Our Chinese Pork Buns

You would be amazed by the number of variations of buns in Chinese cuisine that are similar to ours truly—the pan fried pork buns, Chinese fried buns, shuijianbao or whatever name you are sticking with.

These dishes are different in their various sizes, shapes, preparation times, and of course, fillings—which can be meat or vegetarian, so don’t worry dear vegans: the baozi food family has got your back! Some examples of dishes in this buns or bao family are:

  • Cha siu bao: This is a Cantonese bun with an interesting blend of barbecue-flavored char siu pork filling. It is perhaps the most famous type of baozi, thanks to the barbecued aspect. It is sold in many Chinese bakeries and is a special delicacy in Hong Kong and the Guangdong province of China. This bao is steamed or baked, but not fried.
  • Shengjianbao: This is the most similar baozi to shuijianbao. They are so similar that you might take one for another. In fact, you most likely will unless you are a baozi pro. Like with the shuijianbao, these are also fried.
  • Tianjin Goubuli
  • Shanghai Xiaolongbao
  • Tangbao in Yangzhou
  • Naihuangbao…and a whole lot of others.

Shuijianbao is a Chinese dish that is really delicious. Chances are that you may not find this dish in Chinese restaurants in America, as it is more common in China or neighboring countries where it has gained its widespread fame.

If you can’t find this meal, your best bet is to make your own shuijianbao, and don’t forget to share it with your loved ones! This is shuijianbao, signing off.

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis

Luisa Davis is a frelance writer and foodie based in Portland, California. Though raised on her mother's homestyle Italian cooking, she has spent most of the last five years traveling and immersing herself in other countries' cuisines. Her work have been published in various publications, both online and offline.

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