BÁNH BAO – VIETNAMESE STEAMED BUN
This is an ode to Bánh bao (Vietnamese steamed bun), a dish that hits me right in the childhood. Fluffy, sweet and savory, it is every kiddo’s comfort food, a small gastronomic dream that once fit perfectly in the palms of my little hands. To me, Bánh bao is the echoes of my early life – youthful and pure of heart.
The memory of tranquil and cozy days when my family gathered to dig in these lovely buns never fails to warm my heart. My house was always full of funny-looking, yet tasty Bánh bao. Sometimes I woke up to the smell of fresh buns and black coffee at the crack of dawn – and what else could feel more home than that? Grandma, the best Bánh bao maker ever, would kneed and roll out the dough, while I and my sister took care of the fillings and garnishments. We were on our toes every time a new batch came out, laughing and guessing the buns’ shapes and tastes, waiting to sink our teeth into the treats. After school, we snacked on freshly-baked, on-the-go Bánh bao from the curbsides’ carts as clouds of vapor from the steamers engulfed the vendors, creating the illusion of a sun-soaked haze. Washing down the soft, floury dough with a sip of sữa đậu nành (Vietnamese soy milk), we saved the best for last: tiny, hard-boiled quail eggs and piquant, hearty ground pork are always savored later.
Bánh bao is quintessential of the Vietnamese ‘salad days’, so widely beloved that it has become a part of our children’s folk verses:
“Vòng quanh sô-cô-la
Bánh bao, sữa đậu nành…”
(Round and round, here we go,
Chocolate, buns and soy milk…)
Bánh bao was a type of old-fashioned dim sum brought to Vietnam by Cantonese immigrants. Its initial name was ‘tai pao’ (big bun). The Vietnamese took a spin on the dish by making Bánh bao smaller than its counterpart and altering the tastes of the fillings. Nowadays, after certain tried-and-true changes, Bánh bao has become a ball-shaped bun containing pork, mushrooms, onions, Chinese sausage and quail eggs. Although further adaptations have been added (beef, chicken, vegetarian, etcetera), the traditional Bánh bao with seasoned pork is still the most favorited by far.
The difference of hand-made Bánh bao
The finesse of eating Bánh bao goes beyond encasing a bunch of ingredients into a flour casing. Like the majority of Vietnamese street foods, Bánh bao is not only a dish, but also an experience. The secret to a sating one is to peel off the thin, paper-like outer layer of this white dough (only hand-made Bánh bao has this!). The result is a lighter, softer texture and a tang of rice flour that should delight you always.
RECIPE FOR BÁNH BAO – VIETNAMESE STEAMED BUN
Prep: 1 hour and 30 minutes; Cook: 25 minutes
Who doesn’t love a fluffy, adorable bun?
– In a bowl, mix ingredients for the yeast in this order: warm milk, yeast, sugar, salt. Stir well and set it aside for 5 minutes to let everything dissolve
– In another bowl, bring together flour, sugar, and baking powder. Gradually add in vegetable oil and yeast. Use a wooden spoon and mix them well. Then, knead this concoction into a soft and non-sticky dough.
– Place the dough back to the bowl and cover it with a damp cloth. Put it in room temperature (37°C/99°F) and wait for at least 1 hour. Meanwhile, combine all ingredients for the filling (except for the quail eggs) and allow it 30 minutes to marinate.
– After the dough is ready, knead it for 5 minutes before adding a few drops of lime to make the bun whiter. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces and cover them with a damp cloth for another 10 minutes.
– Now comes the fun part! To shape the bun, place each piece of dough on a floured surface and roll it out to form a 1 cm-thick circle with thin edges. Stuff the filling and eggs in the center and start shaping round buns.
– Place the shaped buns onto squares of parchment paper and let them rise for 15 minutes before steaming. Don’t forget to wrap the lid of your steamer with a thick kitchen towel to avoid water dripping onto the buns. Your buns should be ready after 25 minutes.