Welcome to the world of Asian balls, buns, bings and baozi! (And you thought Sally by the seashore was a tongue twister!) Talk about “lost in translation.”
There are whole aisles of buns, bings and baozi at the Asian grocery, in bamboo steamers at restaurants and on food carts on street corners all over China and Taiwan. It’s a comfort food, street snack and traditional staple for millions of Chinese here and abroad.
For non-Chinese friends, I’ve referred to them as stuffed pockets, filled buns, steamed bread, rolls or cakes but often it doesn’t seem to capture their diverse, delicious, weighty essence. Some are made with yeast, some are flat doughs but they are all stuffed with either a meat, vegetable, combo or a sweet paste made from lotus seed, black sesame or red bean. There is the mantou exception that is not stuffed but a big chunk, ball or bundle of white-as-snow steamed bread. The mantou carries its own set of traditions, stories and followers as the original peasant street food, not to mention, the challenges of producing the perfect balance of chewy softness. Kind of like the bagel debate!
Asian groceries and markets carry several varieties, some fresh if they have a bakery or in the frozen food aisle. Chinese and Korean bakery-cafes like Mozart, Sweet Hut, and White Windmill offer a modern Starbucks-like atmosphere with wonderful drinks and “exotic” baked goods, including less-sweet, beautifully decorated Asian cakes flavored with mango, green tea and taro root.
My favorite buns, bing and baozi fillings include red bean paste, lotus seed, meatball and scallion or vegetarian (chopped mustard greens, scallions, mushroom and/or chives). I have used them as a grab & go breakfast or snacks anytime. Yum!