Food and Drinks

How to make char siu bao – not an exploding BBQ pork bun – with a Hong Kong dim sum chef

The fluffy white buns with a sweet meaty filling are a favourite among dim sum diehards. While they take seconds to devour, a lot of work goes into making them. Reporter Bernice Chan gave it a try, with interesting results

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 1:31pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 13 May, 2018, 1:31pm

When you go for dim sum, it’s hard to resist char siu bao – the fluffy white, steaming hot buns filled with chunks of delicious barbecue pork coated in a sweet sauce.

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The easy part is eating them; making them is an entirely different matter, as I recently found out when head dim sum chef Leo Tse Lap-ip of Tsui Hang Village in Causeway Bay gave me a quick lesson.

Tse first makes the sauce for the char siu filling; there’s a long list of ingredients, including soy sauce, cooking oil, sesame oil, spring onions, Chinese pepper, gelatin, corn starch and potato starch. The ingredients all need to be boiled together and then cooled down into a thick paste that is then mixed with chunks of char siu.

The dough is then made with ingredients like flour, alkaline water, dough starter and baking powder. I was very surprised to see how much sugar is added to the mixture – perhaps that’s why char siu bao is so delicious.

The dough is left to rest for about half an hour before it is rolled out into a long, thick strand, before Tse sections it off into two-inch pieces. He flattens each one and uses a small rolling pin to thin out the outer diameter of the dough.

Next comes the tricky part of wrapping the bao. I watch Tse put a spoonful of the meat mix in the middle of his mini pancake and then, as if by magic, he seals it together with several small pleats at the top.

I try to copy him with disastrous results. I can’t make the series of pleats like Tse does, nor can I neatly seal it at the top. Instead I seem to have created a bao with a hole at the top like a volcano.

He says it looks OK, but the outside of my bao isn’t even pristinely white – it’s covered in orange char siu sauce thanks to my messy fingers. When we’ve finished making a few of them, he inspects mine and says they can’t be steamed because they’ll explode,but perhaps to be polite he decides to steam them anyway.

The results are clear: mine look like they have been half eaten thanks to the gaping hole that split open at the top.In terms of taste, the filling is the same as Tse’s, but his char siu bao is much fluffier than mine, and he explains it’s because he has more pleats in his bao.

There’s a lot of work that goes into making the steamed buns, that only take seconds to consume, but learning how to make them has given me a whole new appreciation for these delicious dim sum baos.

Tsui Hang Village , 22/F, Lee Theatre , 99 Percival Street , Causeway Bay , tel: 2409 4822