from nyc’s chinatown straight to my kitchen: steamed pork buns

6 Jun

As I’ve charted my way across the continent, and briefly puddle-jumped to Europe, one to do has proclaimed importance in my heart of hearts. Look for a dim sum restaurant, and devour its contents as quickly as possible.

The dim sum dining experience is unique. Of Cantonese origin, what started out as humble afternoon snack time has now morphed into full-scale restaurant war between hordes of hungry Sunday morning patrons and food trolley-wielding waiters. It’s like an automat on wheels, and it’s spunky fun for the whole family.

Interested in the shrimp har gow, or pork siumai, or duck egg and pork porridge (congee) that you see sailing past you? You can have it all. All you have to do is fight your neighbor for the waiter’s attention.

 

My love affair with dim sum began at a young age, when my overtly-white family stumbled across the threshold of the now-defunct My Le Hoa, a curious restaurant located in a somewhat seedy strip mall. Given my inability to resist dishes made of noodles or dough, I was hooked from the first bite. Every dim sum meal since has felt like an epicurean victory.

When young, summer trips west with the family meant opportunities to hunt for dumplings. In Victoria, on the island of Vancouver, we experienced dim sum city-style, climbing an impossibly long flight of steps to enter the restaurant. This was also the scene of my family’s favorite inside joke, featuring stained clothing, the sauce that accompanies cheung fan, and dejected men eyeing each other in a bathroom.

A visit to San Francisco began with a speedy meal at a small dim sum cafe; I feasted whilst simultaneously watching a massive funeral service unfold across the street. Trips to Paris weren’t complete without visits to the many Traiteurs Asiatiques lining the city’s streets, who offer up dumplings by the piece. And most recently, I got to experience dim sum New York-style, by ascending a long escalator to dine with hundreds of hungry companions at Jing Fong Restaurant.

 

With only a fixed-length lens, I was unable to capture the size of the place, or the sheer number of patrons. I did notice, perhaps coincidentally, that all Caucasians were seated on the periphery of the restaurant. For instance, a boisterous gang of Aussies – such that I can only label them as a gang – were at a table behind us.

Along with the Aussies, we had been led to a raised stage of sorts, and thus lorded over the restaurant while downing pot after pot of tea. Despite the stage impediment, we still received food speedily.

A friendly part of the experience is that your tab is kept on a bill with stamps indicating that ordered dishes are either small, medium, large, or special item. This way, you keep ordering until you have to roll your way out of the place, blissfully unaware for a few extra minutes that you’ve just burned a large hole in your wallet. Except, quite surprisingly, the bill for three of us at Jing Fong was under $50. Score for New York.

Now, I’m no chump when it comes to eating smartly at dim sum. When looking to maximize your item intake, it only makes sense to steer clear of the overly doughy Steamed Pork Buns (dàbāo), also known more generally as baozi. But as I like to say, “dim sum begets dim sum.”

In effect, this is true. A day after feasting in New York City, my boyfriend and I downed a second meal at a dim sum cafe in Boston. And now, a few weeks removed from high-rolling city life, I’ve made a batch of the satiating dàbāo to be enjoyed at home.

Steamed Pork Buns

Recipe adapted from a D&D Gold Product ‘Mixed Flour’ package, labeled Bôt Làm Bánh Bao Sàigòn. I have no idea how to pronounce all those accents.

Ingredients for the dough:

1 package (16 oz) ‘Mixed Flour’ (sold at Chinese markets), with 2 tbsp reserved
1 c. milk
1/2 c. sugar
1 tbsp vegetable oil

Ingredients for the filling:

1/2 lb ground pork
1 onion, chopped
1 clove garlic
1 tsp sugar
3 tsp Worchestershire sauce
1 tsp anchovy paste
1 tsp ground ginger
3 hardboiled eggs, cut into quarters

Directions:

In a large bowl, mix the dough ingredients together for 10 – 15 minutes. I used a stand mixer set on low, and let it do its thing. Hand mixing would work equally well. Let dough rest for 10-15 minutes, then mix for an additional five minutes.

Combine all filling ingredients except eggs, and mix well.

Cut out 12  squares of parchment or wax paper, approximately 3 inches square. With additional 2 tbsp flour, roll out dough into a cylinder, and cut into 12 equal pieces. Place each piece on a square of paper, and flatten into a large circle of dough.

Fill a large pot with 1 inch of water, cover with a bamboo steamer, and bring to a boil.

Divide meat filling equally across pieces of dough. Top each with an egg quarter. With floured hands, bring sides of dough up to center, working your way around the edge. Crimp top with fingers so that it is sealed.

Cook in steamer for 20-25 minutes. Serve with rice (if needed, this dish is filling on its own) and sauce of choice – I like sweet chili sauce.

Jing Fong Restaurant

20 Elizabeth St
New York, NY 10013

Opens at 9h30 – get there early, or you will have to wait in line.

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28 Responses to “from nyc’s chinatown straight to my kitchen: steamed pork buns”

  1. leaf (the indolent cook) 2012/06/06 at 11:47 #

    Gosh, I love dim sum. It’s always been a treat growing up. Cool that you made your own pork buns, I’m not so familiar with this particular type, perhaps it’s a more Vietnamese style one (seeing as it came from a Vietnamese flour package)?

    • emma 2012/06/06 at 12:25 #

      Such a treat, I agree. I’ve never had this kind at the restaurant, I usually only see steamed barbecue pork buns (char siu baau). These buns are Shanghainese in origin, so are not considered traditional dim sum fare like the barbecue baozi. I guess I can’t explain the Saigon aspect of the flour, but then again, I’m really no expert on any of this. I just like to eat it!

  2. Jenna 2012/06/06 at 12:20 #

    Okay, I’ve never heard about this before, but seriously – after reading about your dim sum adventures, I have to do it. So, is NYC the closest place to fulfill this wish? Going again anytime soon? ;) (ROAD TRIP. :cough)

    • emma 2012/06/06 at 12:31 #

      Hah, I’m game, I’d go any distance for this stuff!

      There is dim sum available in Boston’s Chinatown, but that is still a mighty long ways off from us. Closer to home, there are frozen dumplings for sale at the Asian markets in Portland (Mitheap, Sun Oriental, and potentially a few others I haven’t been to). I stock up whenever I go down. Finally, Chopsticks in Bangor claims to do dim sum, but I haven’t witnessed this. We went to have dim sum once on a Sunday morning, and we were told upon arrival that we had to arrange it in advance. That seems sort of uncomfortable to have such a meal made just for two people, and I have mixed feelings about the food I ate there, so… I dunno. It might be worth a try, but, Boston it is?

  3. Alayna @ Thyme Bombe 2012/06/06 at 13:10 #

    Oh man, Chinese steamed buns are the best! I have never tried making my own but I really should.

    • emma 2012/06/06 at 13:44 #

      I’ve made a wide variety of dumplings at home before, but had never made steamed buns. They’re way easier than I thought they’d be!

      Perhaps I should turn dim sum at home into a series, given peoples’ interest…

  4. sarah 2012/06/06 at 13:28 #

    I don’t even know how you typed all those accents, let alone say them.
    I have never had dim sum. I was a vegetarian when a lot of my friends were dim summing. It seemed silly to go and be so prude about eating.
    According to some locals we actually have 2 good dim sum places that I need to experience – or just make this recipe and stay at home.

    • emma 2012/06/06 at 13:47 #

      Our Mac makes it easy – you hold down a key, and all the possible accents pop up, corresponding to a number. Without that though, it would have taken me a while to figure the accents out!

      Were you a pescatarian? Most of the dumplings I order are shrimp, all endless varieties on a theme. I order a few pork, but I’m by and large a shrimp hog (hmm, word choice). I can see how dim sum would be difficult for vegetarians.

      It’s also not the healthiest cuisine… lots of dough that your nutritional guidelines would frown upon:(

  5. Brianne 2012/06/06 at 13:54 #

    When we went to visit Kevin’s sister in Chicago, dim sum was on our must-do list. I loved it! We’ve made Momofuku’s steamed pork buns before. These look awesome!

    • emma 2012/06/06 at 14:29 #

      Oooh. You know, I don’t think I’ve ever had dim sum in Chicago! But I have had good tapas there. And Chicago was where I first had sushi as a young lass, before there were many such options in the MSP area.

      I’d like to make the Momofuku version of these – just had a few for lunch, mmmhmmmm they’re good.

  6. Mum 2012/06/06 at 16:44 #

    Loved this post!! Wonderful memories…so much fun in dim sum land–that place in NYC looks like it was really hopping!! I cannot believe that you three got out of there for less than $50! Why are there so many !!? Your dim sum looks delicious:-) Yes, you should make more.

    • emma 2012/06/06 at 16:53 #

      Yes, so many memories, and all of them indeed wonderful. Mmm, dim sum land. THERE WERE SO MANY PEOPLE THERE. I almost couldn’t believe it. And when we left, the line was intensifying – we made it in the nick of time, without realizing it.

      Why are there so many what?

      Okay, I’ll make more!

      • Mum 2012/06/06 at 16:55 #

        Exclamation points, I think that I got carried away…..!

        • emma 2012/06/06 at 17:03 #

          Oh, hah. Careful there! !! !!! !!!!!!

      • Mum 2012/06/06 at 16:59 #

        Dim sum–so exciting, and fun!

        • emma 2012/06/06 at 17:04 #

          I’m surprised you didn’t comment on the Asian Traitors.

          • Mum 2012/06/07 at 16:44 #

            Well, they were good, yes, but there was just that excitement part missing that is so embodied in those often steaming carts that roll this-a-way and that-a-way; and the anticipation of “….gee, what’s coming our way next?”

            • emma 2012/06/07 at 16:58 #

              But – – it was France! Can’t get more exciting than that!! !!!

  7. Adrian Briones (@food_rehab) 2012/06/08 at 01:31 #

    Love this! My fav bits are the eggs. So good in winter.

    • emma 2012/06/08 at 06:43 #

      I loved the eggs! I’d never had anything quite like this version before:) Good in the soon-to-be-summer, too!

  8. Hannah 2012/06/08 at 07:43 #

    A gang?! Were they threatening you with machetes and metal sticks? Were their pants hanging halfway down their bottom? What an odd sight to see at yum cha, mate.

    My family and I used to do yum cha all. the. time. when I was a kid, and our staples were steamed pork buns (so fluffy! so filling! So meaty-sweet!), Chinese broccoli with oyster sauce, and egg tarts. ALWAYS egg tarts to finish. However, looking at your recipe, the steamed pork buns that always show up at our yum chas are absolutely different to yours! I’ve never had one with eggs inside, only sweet barbecued pork and sweeeeet. Did I say sweet? I’m so tired. NEW YOOOOORK!!!

    xo

    • emma 2012/06/08 at 07:57 #

      Yes indeed, yes to all of those things. They were lining dumplings up on their machetes and attempting to eat them that way, but their overly low-slung pants kept getting in the way and making them trip over their gaggle of empty teapots. Yep.

      I’d never had these before either, only the barbecued pork ones as well. Sweeeeeet. But they were a fun new thing to try at home:)

      I agree with you Hannah. Egg tarts to finish ALWAYS!

  9. movita beaucoup 2012/06/08 at 12:17 #

    I adored this post. And the photos have made me very, very hungry. Like, I’d eat some of those gang members hungry.

    • emma 2012/06/08 at 12:22 #

      Are you sure you want to eat people that can’t keep their pants from sagging (see comment above)? Actually, yes, good thought, they’d be the ones to eat. Natural selection and all that.

      • movita beaucoup 2012/06/08 at 12:23 #

        See? You should never doubt me.

        • emma 2012/06/08 at 12:26 #

          I’d still like to think that Vampire Weekend wrote a song about the town I used to live in. But other than that, no, swears.

  10. Malia Schroeder 2012/06/08 at 22:03 #

    My mom used to take us to that dim sum place in Little Canada all the time. It closed? In Hong Kong there is literally dim sum everywhere you look, it’s their national dish.

    • emma 2012/06/09 at 07:46 #

      Yeah, I think it’s been closed at least seven years or so, maybe longer, although I’m not sure. I liked it there, what with the humongous dance floor and all that.

      Must get to Hong Kong! I would eat myself silly:)

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