food of my people: bao

Happy Chinese New Year! This Year of the Dragon is supposed to be extra-fortunate, at least from what the internet is telling me.

Bao aren’t New Year specific foods — they’re more everyday foods — but since I didn’t really cook anything specific* for New Year, here’s a bao post.

* If you’re looking for New Year specific foods, try dumplings, fish, noodles, and tangerines. Most of these foods are eaten because they’re homonyms or symbols for wealth, abundance, longevity, etc. Chinese are big on symbolism.

Bao are just buns, with or without fillings, steamed or baked. I’m usually a baked goods fan but I love the texture of steamed bun, the taste of it, and how the chewy white dough pulls apart in your hands. We made a bunch of buns with fillings: chicken and mushroom (mushroom left over from the jung extravaganza), curry beef (just ground beef cooked up with curry paste, courtesy of K) and char siu. We followed the recipe for buns and char siu from Andrea Nguyen’s Asian Dumplings book.

The procedure is actually quite simple. You make the dough, let it rise, cut it into chunks, form each chunk into a ball, flatten it into a disk, close the disk around the filling, and steam the finished bun on a square of parchment paper. (Purists get very deep into the type of flour to use, and steam their buns on cabbage leaves. But all-purpose flour and parchment paper work just fine.)

making bao

After some practice, we were able to figure out the correct amount of filling for each bun (don’t want to overfill them and have them split in the steamer).

waiting bao

These bao are doing their final rise while waiting for their turn in the steamer.

steamed bao

Fresh from the steamer! They freeze beautifully, too.

(The buns you can get at dim sum tend to be whiter and fluffier than the homemade ones. Word is that this is due to the quality of the flour, or maybe the dough starter, or something. It’s okay; the homemade ones are adorably rustic and plenty tasty.)

food of my people: jung

There’s something about winter that makes me want to hibernate. (Yes, even though it really hasn’t been that cold outside.) I want to squirrel away a stash of food and curl up in a nest of blankets, with a cup of good hot chocolate, and wait out the winter.

This winter, I stashed away a ton of jung.

When I was little girl, I remember my mom making jung in massive quantities. She’d make piles of them, boil them in giant steaming pots, freeze them, and ship huge boxes off to family. They reheat beautifully, each one an entire meal wrapped in bamboo leaves: rice, beans, meat, and mushrooms. All you have to do is take one from the freezer, let it defrost overnight in the fridge, and then take off the plastic wrap and pop it in the microwave (under a damp paper towel) until heated. Peel off the leaves and dump the filling onto a plate. Just like that: dinner.

She doesn’t do it much anymore, because it’s a ton of work (there’s so much prep that it’s not really worth doing unless you’re going to do it in bulk), but when we said that we wanted to learn to make them for ourselves, she was more than willing to come over. She was even willing to do the shopping (she goes to the Chinese grocery stores in Rockville, where they are more likely to have the ingredients than the Korean stores up here). There was just a little preparation beforehand that she wanted us to do…

– boil bamboo leaves, then rinse off any dirt
– soak sweet rice in salted water overnight (the volume of water should be 1.5 times that of the rice)
– soak dried beans in salted water overnight (the volume of water should be 2 times that of the beans)
– cut up pork into appropriately-sized pieces, salt generously, and marinate overnight (we used pork belly for the tasty fat, but pork shoulder (aka butt) can also be used if less fat is desired)
– soak dried shiitake mushrooms


She dropped off the ingredients the night before. Then, the next day, she showed up to a kitchen full of soaking pots, and showed us how to make the jung. You create a pocket in your hand using two overlapped and folded bamboo leaves. You fill the pocket with filling (the one in the picture has beans, pork, peanuts, and a rehydrated mushroom, but no rice or Chinese sausage yet), and then fold one more leaf over the filling to seal. Tie everything shut with a piece of string. The jung will expand slightly when boiled, so make sure your knots are good and there are no rips in the leaves.

We made piles and piles of jung. This is just one of the trays:

finished products

As you can see, there are no real rules to the shape of the resulting jung. I made triangular ones. K made pillows. Both turned out well. After assembly, the jung were boiled for a minimum of three hours (to reduce the amount of steam in the kitchen, K made use of the turkey fryer in the back yard), then dried on pans, then plastic-wrapped and put in the freezer*. I forget how many we made, but there’s a giant pile of ready-to-eat meals in the freezer now.

My inner squirrel is quite content.


* …except the ones that developed structural instability (slight leaking) during the boiling phase; those we stuck in the fridge and microwaved for meals over the next few days. Cooks’ privilege.