I’ve never made bread before in my entire life and although I feel ashamed that I have not tried or wanted to, I have hope that in time to come I’ll find something that’ll push me to learning how to make good bread. Because, in fact, I do love my bread and all sorts of breads at that. There’s nothing quite like having fresh, warm bread with a bit of butter. But no matter how good it is, somehow, there’s a voice in my head saying bread-making is such a chore and requires so much effort, why not just leave it be and buy your bread from a good bakery? Besides, surely you’re incapable of making something so good? Probably the attempts at bread-making as a kid has left a chip on my shoulder. I’m not too sure, but that’s going to be righted soon enough! So you see, if I have a bit of a problem with bread alone, I surely cannot take on making my own Chinese buns. Nonetheless I have scored the internet for some this-is-how-my-gramma-used-to-make-them recipes and hope to try them out in the future.
The past week was spent tying up loose ends of my paper, food-blogging, updating my music library, reading, lazying about and sleeping. Not a very interesting life, except for moments where I cried at melodramatic tv shows and wished I had a steamed bun to make it better. That feeling didn’t go away for ages and thanks to that, I bought enough to last me a little over another week. That’s why people think I’m a squirrel!
Steamed buns have been around since 1800years ago and legend has it, it was invented by the famous military strategist Zhuge Liang. On a journey to South China, Zhuge Liang’s army fell ill. He thus created the ‘mantou’ which directly translated – means flour head as it was shaped like a man’s head, as sacrifice in prayer. These were then given to the soldier’s as sustenance. This is just one of the many legends about the baozi and which I had to look up on the internet because I kept getting it confused with the Legend of the Mooncake.
The mantou is probably the original bun. Slightly rectangular in shape and having no filling, the baozi takes its roots from the humble mantou. The baozi, which means wrapped-up, has the same white, fluffy bread. A step up from the mantou is its filling. Either savoury or sweet, meats of all kinds, vegetables, pickles, sweet pastes and custard fillings were the assorted buns that started to be made. And till today, the baozi and mantou are both staples in China. Great as a snack, they’re welcome at any table come any meal. The different fillings of bread buns are denoted by specific coloured dots or folded patterns on the top of the bun. Soup-filled baozi, though they look like mini versions of the usual baozi, are made with a different dough similar to that of making dumplings and filled with meat and a lard-based soup. They are then eaten with ginger and vinegar. Absolutely delish.
A very special baozi is the peach bun. Filled with a sweet lotus paste, you can get these as a normal white baozi. On special occasions or at fancy restaurants with a dim sum service, you can find these in the shape of peaches which have been coloured a bright pink. Peaches, for the Chinese, represent longevity. If you’ve read the story of the Monkey God, you’ll understand this even better (the Monkey God becomes an immortal god because he stole the longevity fruit – peach from the tree of longevity which yes, belongs to all the ancient gods). Today, not only do you get these classic flavours, fusion food and the drive to try new things have created new flavours like Green Tea buns, Yam buns and Chocolate buns. talk about excitement!
I was a fat kid in the past. Big, round chubster and that pays respect to the gorgeous steamed bun. Daddy always bought them, all my favourite ones, in bulk (I’m just exaggerating, but he did buy enough to feed the square root of our family) and kept them chilled so we could get them out whenever we fancied and steam them before eating. Daddy usually had them steamed really early in the morning even before the sun was out so we could have them just warm enough with the filling still steaming just slightly for breakfast. The steamed bun wasn’t just gastro-ecstacy for us lot, it was battle fuel before school. Brain food. A lot of my heart goes out to that humble bit of bread. What a shocker that this undecorated, simple round bun holds so much significance for not just me, but a lot of other people here, there, everywhere. I’m sure for anyone who tries it, it’ll be enough to get you thinking. However, if it doesn’t hit you somewhere in your heart, I hope at least your stomach will remember it enough to bite you in the gut sometime later with cravings for it.