Cha Cha Cha Siu Bao!

Freshly steamed pork buns

If I ever put the ‘What three foods would you want on a desert island?’ question to Caleb, his answer would simply be “three steamed pork buns!” Caleb is smitten with these Chinese barbecue pork buns (Cha Siu Bao). He inevitably orders them whenever our family ventures out for dim sum, much like I did when I was his age.

I recently promised Caleb that I would teach him how to make steamed pork buns. Not that I’ve ever made them myself, but I figured we’d take on a recipe together and see what happens. Hmmm…what was I thinking? I was daunted by this ambitious undertaking at first, but once I glanced at a recipe or two, I felt hopeful that we could create something that, at the very least, would slightly resemble (and hopefully taste) like what we so enjoy eating in dim sum restaurants.

Our family is enjoying a stay-cation this week; a restful (hah!) week off to do whatever we like in our own backyard. I woke up this morning with the inspiration to take Caleb on a shopping adventure to our local Ranch 99, a large supermarket stocked with everything ‘Asian’ under one roof. We had a ton of fun running around the store snapping photos of fish and crabs swimming around in tanks, of all of the Asian sauces you can imagine on one shelf, of dim sum prepared for takeout, etc. We also bumped into three local restaurateurs that we know in this small world of ours. They were so happy to see us and were tickled when we told them that we were shopping for ingredients to make pork buns.

I was proud of Caleb when he walked up to the butcher’s counter and ordered one pound of char siu (barbecue pork). The butcher smiled and chopped up the dark, hoisin glazed pork, which Caleb proudly walked away with. Once we had gathered up the remaining ingredients, we sat down on a bench outside the market, where Caleb devoured a warm baked pork bun that we had just purchased for a snack. We’ll just write today off as “Pork Bun Appreciation Day!”

Once home, Caleb and I prepared the dough, then put it aside to rise. After I chopped up the pork, we made the filling, which was easier than I thought, then added the meat. I tasted the filling and was surprised by how similar it was to classic pork bun filling. This filled me with hope that we might be in store for a delicious outcome.

After a few hours, we took our dough and had fun kneading it together. We rolled it into a log and cut it into 16 pieces, for larger buns. Caleb helped me spoon the filling into the center of our dough, and we each took turns twisting the filled dough into a bun. I placed the parchment squares on the bottom of each bun and we put them on a cookie sheet to await steaming.

I took the classic bamboo steaming baskets that we just purchased at Ranch 99, filled them with our handmade buns, and then placed them on top of a pot of boiling water. Once the steam was steadily moving through the baskets, I timed them and we waited.

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When we sat down for dinner and put the freshly steamed buns on the table, I couldn’t wait to eat one. Caleb was eager too. I honestly couldn’t believe how good they were. The dough was perfectly steamed and tasted much like the pork bun dough that I’m used to. The filling was full of flavor and although it didn’t have that almost-bright-red tint that the restaurant buns do, ours tasted better than most I have had. Truly. Caleb loved his pork bun and I think that he’s the best judge. I was very proud of our amazing homemade pork buns.

This was a fun (and successful) experiment with Caleb. I would call this recipe ‘doable’ with a five-year-old. Most definitely labor intensive, but all of the steps were pretty simple, resulting in warm and steamy barbecue pork bun goodness. Most importantly, I enjoyed our time together in the kitchen and how excited we both were to replicate one of our favorite dim sum treats.

I feel very fortunate that we live in a corner of the world where we can expose our children to almost every ethnic cuisine out there and can so readily purchase all the ingredients to make pork buns, or whatever else we like. I am also appreciative that we have so many wonderful ethnic restaurants within close proximity. How very convenient that the next time we’re in the mood for cha siu bao, we can just run out to our local dim-summery and enjoy delicious pork buns…prepared for us by someone else!

Off to take a nap now!

Recipe: Cha Siu Bao

Note: We skipped the step of preparing the roast pork and used real, already prepared char siu purchased at the market.