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Grandpa's Gifts 

Pork-filled dai bao

Hearty country dai bao with pork, sausage and egg.

Photo by Wendy Chan

Hearty country dai bao with pork, sausage and egg.

As the autumn wind quietly flies by and the leaves slowly drift down, the ground looks like a fall blanket. Fall is the season of nostalgia. It brings me back to my childhood in China. I can still see the endless golden rice fields and the sweat of hardworking villagers, and hear the laughter of the children running around during harvest celebrations. I can smell the steamed fluffy bread, the fragrance of the new rice soup, the sweet roasted yam my family and neighbors prepared as if it were yesterday. l often like to recreate these childhood comfort foods during the cooler seasons. However, my favorite is making dai bao, which translates to "big meat bun." These buns are about 4 inches wide with snowy-white, soft dough, and filled with tender meat, hard boiled eggs and Chinese lap cheong sausage. They are a breakfast of champions, as l tell my kids, and you can still find some shopkeepers from my hometown making them in San Francisco Chinatown.

I often think about my grandpa when l make dai bao. I fondly remember him bring them in paper wrappers from the local market for special occasions. We couldn't afford to have them often, so they were greatly appreciated. He would tease my siblings and l by asking us to guess what treats he had brought. The familiar scent of the yeasty bread would make me jump with joy. As he gently opened the paper wraps, we would each take one. I would sit on the front porch enjoying the breezy afternoon wind while carefully peeling back the dough bit by bit. When l finally got to the filling, l would take a full bite to get a bit of everything: the succulent pork, the egg and lap cheong. l wish so badly l could make dai bao for grandpa now. He moved to America while l was just a teenager and left the world a few years later, before my family and I moved over. The last memories he left me were postcards of gigantic redwood trees and leaf shaped bookmarks. He would address me as "Mister" in his letter, still poking fun.

l learned how to make dai bao from my mother after l became a mom. Sharing my favorite childhood snack with my kids made me feel close to home. I like to use local wild mushrooms in the filling instead of dried shiitake. I called them Humboldt matsutake buns when l served them to out-of-town guests. I hope you find time to make and experience these wonderful treats.

Dai Bao (Big Meat Buns)

The filling can be made up to a day ahead. The pork shouldn't be too lean; make sure there is visible fat. l find store bought ground pork is too fine for this recipe, so I chop or grind my own. Makes 8 buns.


For the dough:

1 tablespoon active dry yeast

3 tablespoons lukewarm water

3 cups cake flour

3 tablespoons wheat starch

½ teaspoon salt

¼ cup white sugar

¾ to 1 cup warm milk or water for dough

2 teaspoons baking powder (to add after rising)

For the filling: 

1 pound pork

1 small raw egg

1 teaspoon grated ginger

½ teaspoon white pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 tablespoon sugar

2 tablespoons oyster sauce

2 tablespoons soy sauce

1 teaspoon vegetable oil

¼ cup chopped fresh shiitake or matsutake mushroom 

¼ cup chopped scallions

4 tablespoons water

4 hard boiled eggs

2 links Chinese sausage

In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast with 3 tablespoons warm water, and let it rest for 3 minutes. Add in cake flour, wheat starch, salt and sugar, and stir. Add warm milk or water a little at a time, kneading by hand until there isn't any dry flour left. Cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for 45 minutes to 1 hour.

While the dough is resting, get the filling ready by coarsely chopping or grinding the pork. Place the pork in a large bowl, adding the raw egg, ginger, white pepper, salt, sugar, oyster sauce, soy sauce, shiitake, scallions and oil. Mix well. Grab a handful of the meat mixture, slap it against the bowl a few times to tenderize it. Finally add 4 tablespoons of water, 2 tablespoons at a time, mixing well. Let it marinate for at least 20 minutes. Peel and cut each hardboiled egg in half. Split each lop cheong in half, then again crosswise for a total of 8 pieces, and set aside.

Time to check the dough. It should be doubled in size by now. Punch it down with your fist to let the air out. Knead the dough a few times, then add the baking powder and knead for 4 more minutes. Roll out the dough on a floured surface and divide it into 8 equal pieces. Roll each into a ball, cover and let it rest for 10 more minutes.

Time to get your steamer out. Cut 8 squares of parchment paper, about 5 inches each. Using a rolling pin, flatten each ball to a 6-inch circle, leaving the center slightly thicker. In the center, place about 3 tablespoons of meat mixture, 1 piece of lop cheong and ½ a boiled egg. Fold and pleat the dough evenly, pinching the edges together until you reach the end, then make a twist to close the bun. No matter how you fold it, just make sure the filling is completely sealed inside. Place each bun on a parchment square and place in the steam basket. Make sure to leave space between each bun. I usually put 4 in my 12-inch bamboo steamer basket at a time. Fill the wok or pot you will use with warm water, about 3 inches deep, place the steam baskets above the water in the pot or wok. Cover tightly for 10 minutes for the final rise. Then turn the burner on high, steaming the buns for 18 minutes if doing 2 baskets at once, or 15 minutes for 1 basket. Turn the stove off and let the buns rest for 2 minutes before opening the cover. Serve and enjoy with a cup of tea for breakfast or snack.

You can find Home Cooking with Wendy Chan (she/her) classes benefitting local charities on Facebook.

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Wendy Chan

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