Sunday, March 28, 2010

Banh bao and banh bao chay - Vietnamese steamed pork buns and vegetarian buns

Banh bao is a childhood favorite – and is an easy and portable br
eakfast, lunch or snack! The Vietnamese version of
bao is very different from Chinese. They look similar from the outside but the filling is so so different. Char siu bao is the more common version you’ll see at dim sum – steamed buns filled with chopped sweet and savory bbq pork. Banh bao are filled with basically a pork meatball with a wedge of hard-boiled egg, onions, Chinese sweet sausage, and sometimes mushrooms and peas. Some people also include some chopped char siu, or barbecued pork, into their ground pork mixture though my mother never did. 

My mom used to make these with that standard frozen pea and carrot mix to increase the veggies. I always loved the peas, but didn’t love the carrots as a kid for some reason, so I make these only with peas, but you can certainly add carrots if you like. Some people also add some sautéed cabbage to increase the veggies but I haven’t bothered for the pork version. I recommend using petite frozen peas, which I think are the sweetest, and also, because I like making smaller banh bao rather than the huge fist-sized ones you find at the Vietnamese delis, it just seems to fit better to use the smaller peas. 

The vegetarian version that follows includes a mixture of tofu, onions, mushrooms, carrots, peas, cabbage and slices of vegetarian curry "chicken" - which is a braised gluten cut to resemble chicken.

Banh bao
and banh bao chay - Vietnamese steamed pork buns and vegetarian buns
Makes about 2 dozen smaller bao, or 16 larger bao


  • 2 bags of banh bao flour 
  • 1 cup sugar 
  • 1 1/4 cup whole milk, add more little by little if they dough seems too dry 
  • 1 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil 
  • A little addditional flour if dough is too sticky

  • 4-1/2 cups flour, bleached if you want your bao really white – I like to sub at least 1 cup white whole wheat flour, so mine are not so white, additional flour as needed if dough is too sticky
  • 1-1/2 cups whole milk, a little more as needed if dough is too dry 
  • 3/4 cup sugar 
  • 1 Tbsp. baking powder 
  • 3 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil

    Pork Filling
  • 1 pound ground pork 
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. oyster sauce 
  • 1 Tbsp. soy sauce 
  • 1-1/2 Tbsp. fish sauce 
  • 1 tsp. sugar 
  • 1/2 tsp. salt 
  • 1 tsp. ground pepper 
  • 4 shallots, finely minced or 1/2 small yellow onion, very finely chopped 
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced 
  • 3 links Chinese sausages, sliced into thin circles, or if the sausages are a little thicker, slice lengthwise, and then slice crosswise 
  • 4 hard boiled eggs (cut into quarters) 
  • 1/2 cup frozen petite peas, thawed
  • Optional- you could add thinly sliced cabbage or chopped shiitake mushrooms if you like.

    Vegetarian Filling
  • 2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil 
  • 3 to 4 scallions, thinly sliced  
  • 4 shallots or 1/2 small yellow onion, very finely minced or chopped 
  • 2 cloves garlic, finely minced 
  • 2 cups cabbage, chopped into a small dice 
  • 4 medium carrots, finely diced 
  • 1/2 cup frozen petite peas, thawed 
  • 1 cup diced fried tofu - if you can find it at the store or from a vendor already fried, it makes things much easier, but if not, you can fry them up yourself - drain firm tofu really well and pat as dry as you can before frying to minimize oil splatters
  • 1/3 cup dried aricularia, black fungus or shredded wood ear mushroom– small strips rather than whole wood ear mushrooms, soaked and reconstituted, or if you are using whole wood ear mushrooms, soak and then slice into thin strips or chop 
  • 10 dried shitake mushrooms, soaked, stemmed and diced 
  • 1 tsp. kosher salt 
  • 3 Tbsp. vegetarian mushroom “oyster” sauce, or mushroom stir fry sauce 
  • 1 can vegetarian curry “chicken” or curry braised gluten, drained but reserve a few spoons of the curry sauce, and diced 
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs, cut into quarters – you could also skip the egg if you like 
For assembling: 
  • Additional flour for rolling dough
  • Parchment paper – cut into 24 x 3” circles or squares 

From mix: mix the bags of flour with the sugar and stir well to distribute sugar evenly. Then add milk. Stir with a chopsticks or a wooden spoon until it gets thick enough to start kneading with your hands. If the dough is a bit sticky, sprinkle in more flour, and if it seems dry, add a little more milk. Work the dough until it comes together, and is moist not too sticky and fairly smooth. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let it rest for 30 min. to an hour.


From scratch: stir together flour, sugar and baking powder in a large mixing bowl. Add oil and milk and stir to – it will be soft and sticky. Turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead the dough for a few minutes until it’s smooth but still a little sticky. Transfer to a lightly oiled bowl, cover and let rest for at least an hour.


For the pork filling: In a separate bowl, mix together ground pork, oyster sauce, soy sauce, fish sauce, sugar, salt, pepper, minced shallots or grated onion, thawed peas, mushrooms and mix together well. Test it by putting a teaspoon of filling in a bowl and microwaving it for a minute or so – taste and adjust seasoning for the bowl of filling as needed – does it need more salt? Do you want to add a little sugar to balance out the saltiness? Or oyster sauce adds both a little sweetness and saltiness.

For the vegetarian filling: In a large skillet, heat 2 Tbsp. canola or vegetable oil over medium high heat. Add onions, scallions and garlic and sauté about 3 minutes until softened and fragrant. Add cabbage and carrots if using fresh. If not, just add cabbage for now and sauté until softened. Add thawed frozen peas, and thawed frozen carrots if using, diced mushrooms, and vegetarian chicken and sauté everything together for another minute. Add mushroom sauce, or vegetarian oyster sauce, salt and pepper and about 1 Tbsp. curry sauce from the vegetarian curry “chicken”. If the mixture seems really dry, add more of the curry sauce. Let everything cook a few more minutes. Add diced tofu, stir in and turn off heat. 

Assembling the banh bao

Pinch off a bit of dough a little larger than a golf ball. Roll into a ball, and on a floured surface, spread a dough ball and flatten it out thinly. If you have a small wooden dowel, you can roll it out. If you don’t just work it out to a fairly evenly flat circle.

Holding the dough in the palm of your hand, put a spoonful of meat mixture in the center and put an egg slice on top, pushing it into the meat mixture. Bring the dough up around the filling. Pinch it close and try to remove as much of the excess dough on the top as you can while keeping the filling completely closed up. Place the bao onto a piece of parchment. Repeat with the remaining dough.

For the vegetarian filling put a rounded spoon of filling in the middle, add a wedge of egg, and wrap the dough around it. If you're making a batch of meat and vegetarian bao, mark off the veggie ones with a little piece of mushroom or carrot on top before steaming.


Depending on how much filling you use, you can have anywhere from 16 to 24 bao, or even a few more than that.

When you’re ready to steam, make sure you leave some room around each bao in the steamer as they will expand and you don’t want them to stick to each other.  They expand quite a bit so even though you might think you're making small bao when you're assembling them, they'll still end up being pretty good-sized.  Steam for about 20 minutes if they’re smaller, 30 minutes if they’re bigger, to cook the filling all the way through. With the vegetarian ones, you’re probably fine with 20 minutes. 
You can refrigerate them and reheat in the microwave - I recommend covering them with a moistened paper towel so they can kind of steam as they reheat - I use wet paper towels to reheat tortillas, rice and all kinds of things!

The banh bao also freeze well and are great to take out and reheat later when you don't feel like cooking. That said, the egg's texture is a little different after freezing but they're still good.  You might consider doing a few without the egg if you're planning to freeze them.


  1. thankyouthankyouthankyou! I love these and have never found a recipe I liked. Can't wait to try them!


  2. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you! My wife (a Vietnamese expat) and I loved these banh bao! I made them extremely healthy - I used 3.5 cups white whole wheat flour and 1 cup of the premade banh bao flour; used plain silk soymilk (which is slightly sweetened) and had to use quite a bit because of the extra whole wheat flour; used scant 1 tsp white stevia powder. This eliminated the sugar completely, this also reduced the salt to about 1/4 the amount called for, and my wife (a salt addict) was satisfied. For the filling, I sliced some carrots, used quartered egg, and finely diced some leftover chix breast that I had baked lightly coated with stonewall kitchen's garlic peanut sauce, sweet peppers, and sweet onion (I diced the peppers and onions as well). After dicing, I stirred in a bit more of the garlic peanut sauce - the sauce is relatively low in salt, sugar, and fat. I believe I created the healthiest banh bao ever made in the history of mankind! My wife, who is ALWAYS critical of my cooking and skeptical about healthy/low sodium/low fat/low sugar cooking, took her first bite and exclaimed, "I'm impressed!" Though I've enjoyed banh bao for a long time now (especially my wife's banh bao) I had never made them before, but these really did turn out superb - and they're so healthy that I didn't stop my wife from sharing some with my toddler - the dough is about as healthy as the whole grain bread found in stores (which usually contains loads of salt and quite a bit of sugar). Definately a recipe I will remake on a monthly basis - these are a satisfying breakfast, and more filling than the white flour version. I used the folding technique that they use in Eden (little Saigon near D.C.) - fold over one part of the circle and continue folding pieces over clockwise and seal the last bit gently - kind of looks like a pinwheel - very pretty product. Again, thank you!

  3. Alex - that's great - sounds delicious and healthy!