The Vietnamese Banh Bao
This tasty fluffy white bao bun filled with pork meat filling is a classic in the Vietnamese cuisine. But how much do you exactly know about banh bao? Let’s deep-dive in it!
The very first bao
“Bao” actually means “bun” and in Asia, it is very common to find different kinds of buns amongst the many cultures in the region. All buns lead back to China and in particular, one dish named “baozi” is probably the most original bun there is. Baozi is a steamed stuffed bun that is a traditional food in the Chinese culture. It is close to two thousand years old. Invented during the Three Kingdoms era, these buns were initially created by a famous warlord as a sacrificial offering to the deceased who lost their lives in a battle.
Banh bao is Vietnam’s version of a big bun. It literally means “wrapped up cake”. Containing meat and vegetable, this fluffy, savoury bun is almost like a meal in itself. Did you know that banh bao is actually inspired by the Cantonese dish of “tai pao”? It was the Cantonese immigrants who introduced buns to Vietnam. The way banh bao is made is also very similar to the Cantonese method.
How banh bao is made
The white banh bao dough is simply made from flour, mixed with water or milk, some sugar, and a little oil. The dough is kneaded and rolled out, then cut and flattened into individual small, flat circles which then encases the filling.
There are different possible ingredients which are used to make banh bao. Minced pork is the most common meat, and it is paired with wood ear mushrooms, onions, scallions, hard-boiled eggs, and sweet Chinese sausage. Sometimes chicken is used to replace ground pork, and vegetarian banh bao is made with fillings that include sweet carrots, green peas, and crunchy jicama. It does not matter what the fillings are, it is apparent that the pillowy soft banh bao is a hearty food, both delicious and nutritious.
When it comes to shape and size, banh bao is round, like a ball. It fits easily in the palm of the hands and could be eaten conveniently on-the-go or packed into lunch boxes. Since the banh bao already has ingredients inside the bun, it is usually eaten without any side dishes. However, condiments like chili sauce can be used for dipping the banh bao in, to give it a spicy kick.
In Vietnam, you can find banh bao being sold everywhere. From street stalls to the markets, restaurants and even from the vendors who ride around in motorbikes! This really shows just how popular banh bao is with the locals and most likely even the tourists! The good thing about buns, and in this case, banh bao, is that you can eat it anytime. As breakfast, snack, high tea, lunch, and even dinner. It is a bona fide comfort food which many Vietnamese grow up eating and feed to their children. The making of banh bao is also a family activity, involving anyone who could help. From kneading the dough to preparing the ingredients for the filling and wrapping up the buns, many Vietnamese grow up with memories of helping to create this scrumptious dish.
Where to eat banh bao in Singapore?
Next to a comforting pho soup from various Vietnamese restaurants in Singapore, as it can sound curious, the Chinese restaurant Ding Te Le serves steamed buns as a pair in various fillings: pork meat, vegetarian, crab meat or red beans, the choice is yours!