Jul 2, 2012

MANAPUA, take a bao!

Sweet, steamed barbecue-pork-filled bun
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Golden Coin Manapua
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The Cantonese immigrating from China to Hawaii in the 19th century to work on the sugarcane plantations, brought their culinary heritage with them. One of those foods was a sweet, steamed barbecue-pork-filled bun, called cha siu bao (pork-filled bun). This delectable bun immediately became a favorite with islanders and soon was given the Hawaiian name, mea'ono-pua'a ("mea'ono" for cake or pastry, and "pua'a for pork). Over the years that name became lost in translation and today it is just called manapua, pidgin for mea'ono-pua'a. I have to say that it is one of my favorite snack foods. I first had cha siu bao in dim sum restaurants in San Francisco many years ago, but it wasn't until I moved to Hawaii that I really began to appreciate this inexpensive, easy to prepare, Chinese treat. 

On Oahu they are found everywhere from dim sum restaurants, to Chinese bakeries, to food trucks. There is even a restaurant called the Island Manapua Factory, in Manoa, that specializes in manapua with fillings like Peking duck, pork hash, taro and sweet red bean paste. Here on Moloka'i we are not that lucky, but we can get bags of frozen manapua in our grocery stores, in bags of 6, from a Filipino bake shop in Honolulu called Golden Coin Food, (see photo above). 

Manapua also has a baked version, but the dough for this type is different from the steamed version in that it is made from Hawaiian sweet bread dough, and is usually glazed with honey. These fully cooked buns are prepared by steaming or baking, or you can just take a bun right out of the frozen package and place it in the microwave for 1 minute on high, you don't even have to defrost it or cover it. How easy is that? They are not only great for a quick snack or lunch, but can also be served alongside other Chinese dishes. This is another reason why Hawaii is such a great culinary melting pot, MANAPUA, take a bao!

For those of you who feel like making these tasty steamed buns yourself, here's a recipe, however I have to warn you, they are a bit of work.

Ingredients for char siu filling:
3/4 cup char siu, Chinese barbecue pork, found in the Asian section of your grocery store, or see recipe below
1 teaspoon sesame oil
3 tablespoons chopped
green onions
2 1/2 tablespoons sugar
4 teaspoons soy sauce
1/8 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons flour
2 teaspoons cornstarch
1/4 cup water
1-2 drops red food coloring (optional)

Ingredients for char siu dough:
3 1/2 cups all purpose flour, or a combination of all purpose and cake flour
1 tablespoon shortening
1/4 cup sugar
1 package active dry yeast
1 cup warm water

Procedure for filling:
Dice char siu. In a saucepan, heat oil and stir fry char siu for 20 seconds. Add onions, sugar, soy sauce and salt. Mix flour and cornstarch with water. Stir into char siu. Cook until mixture thickens; cool.

Procedure for dough:
Put three cups of the flour into a bowl. Cut in shortening. Stir in two tablespoons of the sugar. Combine the remaining two tablespoons sugar with the yeast and add 1/3 cup of the warm water. Stir until yeast is dissolved. Add the remaining 1/2 cup flour; mix well. Combine flour mixture, yeast mixture and remaining 2/3 cup water. Knead on lightly floured board five minutes or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Place dough in greased bowl, cover with plastic and allow to rise until doubled in size, approximately one hour at room temperature. Divide into 18 portions. Oil hands and flatten pieces of dough. Put about 1 tablespoon filling in center of dough. Form buns by pulling dough up and around filling. Pinch and seal seams. Place on squares of waxed paper. Let rest 20-30 minutes. Place on rack and steam 15 minutes. Makes 18 buns. Serve with a hot cup of Chinese tea.

Char Siu
Char Siu is of Cantonese origin where skewers of pork meat are marinated in a honey and hoisin sauce, and then roasted in the oven to charred, savory, and sticky sweet perfection. This is an easy recipe, and worth the effort.

1 pound pork belly, unsliced with skin trimmed off
2 tablespoons Shaoxing Chinese cooking wine
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce, or substitute regular soy sauce
2 tablespoons white granulated sugar
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/2 tablespoon hoisin sauce
1/2 teaspoon five-spice powder
2 tablespoons honey

In a large bowl, mix together the wine, dark soy sauce, sugar, garlic, hoisin sauce, and five-spice powder. Rub the pork belly with the marinade mixture and marinate for 2 to 3 hours in the refrigerator. Preheat the oven to 325°F. Rub the excess marinade off the pork belly (but don’t rub it all off!) and place in a roasting pan. Brush the top with the honey. Roast the pork for 40 to 45 minutes, flipping the pork belly over half-way through and brushing honey on the other side. The pork is done when the outsides begin to crisp and blacken, and the center of the pork belly strip feels firm. Remove the pork from oven and let it cool for a 5 to 10 minutes. Transfer to a cutting board and cut into thin slices. Arrange the slices on a plate and serve, either plain as part of a multi-course meal, or with rice or noodles, garnished with sliced green onions. If you want to use the char siu for manapua, dice the meat to 1/4" pieces. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

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