Char Siu Bao (BBQ Pork Buns) with Meaning – and ‘The Tale of a Painting’.

December 15, 2011 at 12:48 am | Posted in Appetizers, Asian, Breads, Daring Cooks, Dinner, Lunch, Pork, Yeastspotting | 36 Comments
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I’m in love with pork buns especially the baked kind.  I’ve been known to go out of my way just to stop at Asian bakeries to pick up varieties of their soft lovely buns..and there’s always at least two pork buns in the bag when I leave.  There’s one in my town now, and I have to steer clear or else I’ll be buying bags of buns several times a week.

Well..whaddya know…

Our Daring Cooks’ December 2011 hostess is Sara from Belly Rumbles ! Sara chose awesome Cha Sui Bao as our challenge, where we made the buns, Cha Sui, and filling from scratch – delicious!

Hmmm..Cha Sui?  I suppose that’s just another term for it?  I always thought it was Char Siu, and Char Siu pork and I go way back – well. way back two years ago.  I was actually going to recycle that photo of my Char Siu pork into this post, but once I made it again, I decided to  get at least one shot to show I actually did make it again.  It’s a beautiful thing.  Ever pick the pieces of it out of your fried rice to eat individually?

I do.

So, I’ve made Char Siu pork before, and Char Siu Bao before – steamed and baked – with great success.  I knew this was a challenge I couldn’t miss, not only because I’ve had great success with it, but because pork buns have gone up $1.25 since I last walked out of the local Asian bakery mentioned above.

On a whim, I decided to do something a little different with them this time.  I gussied them up a bit with some Chinese characters for Love, Strength, Peace and Harmony.  I mixed matcha powder with a little egg yolk, painted on the characters, let them dry, then egg washed and baked after rising.  After one bun, I nixed LOVE.

The Chinese character for LOVE has too many lines and details for such a small area.  It looked like scribble scrabble, so I let it fly solo.  The LOVE is in the buns, baby.

As I painted each character on top of the buns…a memory was tip-toeing  – with high-heels –  through my brain.

A few years ago, I decided to completely redo the breakfast nook at my parent’s house.  Every time I was over there, I could hear the strains of 80’s synthesizers when we sat in that room.  It was far past out-of-date – it was Boy George in long braided, mu mu drag, Go Go’s chic, George Michael doing the jitterbug in day-glo, fingerless gloves, out-of-date.

I pulled up every tile of the black and white checkerboard floor, stripped as much of the bright blue paint off the walls (I know, sounds tacky, doesn’t it?  But it wasn’t tacky in the 80’s), then sanded off the rest,  – repaired cracks and holes with many compounds (add more sanding) finally rolling and brushing on two coats of an Arabian sand color I thought was perfect.

I took down two doors, sanding off the burnished, worn stain, then sanding again, staining and a shellac – finishing them off with shiny, bright new doorknobs.  It was tough work for one girl, and I still have no idea how I managed it, but within a month, it was completed.  I bought a pot rack, hung their pots and pans between the nook and the kitchen, then stood back and admired what I’d done.  Trading Spaces? Pffft.

Hmmm…it needed art, a few paintings.  Maybe one by me to sort of ‘sign’ my work on the room, if you know what I mean.

I found a bunch of old acrylic paints and brushes in their basement (Yes, I used to draw and paint a bit), but no canvas, and it was too late to go out and get one.  I walked around the house looking for something – anything..I needed to paint at that moment.  I needed to put my final seal on the room before reveal day.

Out of the corner of my eye, there it sat, one of those vertical, ‘three in a row’ mallard prints that nobody, outside of He-Man hunter living in a log cabin, puts up on display (or so I thought).  I pried open the wires holding everything together..I planned on using the back of this canvas for my painting.  I was confused as to why there were so many layers to get to the canvas, and why was it signed?  Is someone proud of painted mallards on a canvas set in ugly dark green cardboard frames?

Baked BBQ Pork Buns (Char Siu Bao)

I finally got to the back of the canvas, pulled it out, and started painting a kaleidoscope of colors to fit in, but ‘pop’ in the room.  I had already decided I was going to paint the black chinese characters for Love, Health and Happiness on top of these colors, because they’re so beautiful.  After hiding it to dry for several hours, I came back and painstakingly painted on each character – using some computer print-outs as a reference.  It turned out beautiful, and once it was fully dry, I put it back into the frame, minus the dark green cardboard cut-outs.

I hung it in the perfect place and beamed at my resourcefulness.  Turning a cheap, factory made mallard painting into something beautiful!  I couldn’t wait for them to see!

They loved it – I was thrilled.   They also loved my painting.  After several compliments, my father asked..

“Where did you get the frame for it?  I was given a numbered, signed painting by (insert name of famous mallard artist who’s name escapes me at this moment – Update: I know who it is now but absolutely refuse to name him in fear he will see this post via Google and read how I completely annihilated his work thinking it was cheap, worthless and ugly) a few weeks ago as a gift for the holidays, in a frame very similar to’s very expensive.”



I felt faint.

He saw my eyes, his face changed.

“You didn’t take that painting out of the frame, did you?  If you did, show me where everything is so we can put it all back together, we’ll get another nice frame for your painting, ok?”

Now I’m going to throw up.

He saw my face turn a light shade of green.  He knew.

I’m not going to get into details outside of some yelling and “Do you have any idea how much that painting is worth now and will be worth in several years??” “Do you have any idea how rare it is?  Only 5 exist!” type of stuff.

To this day, my painting sits in a box in my parent’s basement, never hung again.  He didn’t need to be reminded of it during his morning coffee, for the rest of his life.  I totally agree.

OK..back to the pork buns!  This was a good recipe, the dough was wonderful to work with.  However, I made a few small changes.  When I saw the recipe for the pork filling, I didn’t think there would be enough sauce to really moisten the pork, so I doubled it.  Turns out I was right, as some mentioned the pork filling being dry after it was baked and/or steamed.

Second change..I wanted a lot of filling per bun, like the ones I get at my local bakery, so I made 9 buns instead of 1 teaspoon or 1 tablespoon amount here..just what I call a ‘heap’ aka whatever I can fit onto the dough round and seal without leaking or tearing.

Third change – I let the buns rise for an hour before baking.  This recipe eliminated a rise, for a thinner shell of bread.  I like a little bready fluff around my pork filling.  I also baked them at 350 F for 15 minutes, instead of 200 F for 15 minutes.

Finally, I sprinkled the top of the buns without the characters with a little bit of Maldon flake sea salt.

If you get a chance, please have a look at my fellow Daring Cook’s ‘sexy buns’, by clicking HERE.  For the recipes for Char Siu Pork, and baked or steamed Char Siu Bao, Click HERE.

I’m submitting my Char Siu Bao to Yeastspotting, a weekly bread baking showcase hosted by the incredibly talented Susan of Wild Yeast.

I’m also submitting these to Bread Baking Day #45, hosted by Cindy of Cindystar.

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  1. Mmmhhh, fabulous! I love the calligraphy…



  2. Excellent job for this month’s challenge, and I enjoyed reading your post…even the part where your dad got mad 🙂
    I love the calligraphy on the baked buns…beautiful!

  3. Yes your story about the painting is so interesting and stunning I don’t know what I would of done in the situation. I love your steam buns and yes I agree with your tweaks (extra filling sauce and the temperature changes). I really adored the dough for the steamed buns. And the characters on the buns are so cute and a charming addition to the recipe. A happy Christmas to you and your family. Cheers from Sydney Australia.

  4. A delectable post, enjoyed it, both pictures and words. Nice work. : )

  5. It is siu, got to love a typo with the most exposure it could possibly get! Glad you enjoyed the challenge anyway.

  6. Nice post! Love the story and the pictures.

  7. Not a huge pork fan but love the story. I am sure your characters are nicer than the mallard ducks no matter how much it might be worth. Your photos are fantastic and really show how you do things. Great job!

  8. What a story to go with your plump buns! That, the calligraphy, and voluptuous amount of pork, make them extra special 🙂

  9. As always you did a fantastic job! I love the chinese characters and the mound of filling in each bun!! And what a story about the painting… oh man! That is too funny and too horrible all at the same time!

  10. gorgeous food, heart stopping story. Thank you for sharing!!

  11. You know how much I love you and the whole painting episode – not to mention the incredible buns (THESE! Not yours!) – just show why. You are so incredibly talented yet not infallible. Ha ha ha – always funny, always turning out amazing food. I want. Now.

  12. Love your design on your gorgeous buns, but I loved the story even more. You must have felt so bad about the painting. I wish someone would come redo my house for me.

  13. I actually gasped reading that story. Oh no! And after all your hard work.

    Those are such beautiful pork buns, so shiny and golden. I love the calligraphy on top. I made the char siu, but unfortunately I ran out of time and didn’t get around to the buns. I definitely want to have another go now!

    • Thank you, Suz! Do you have enough Char Siu left to make some buns?

  14. Perfectly done…beautiful and delectable!

  15. Your painted buns are just lovely. And, what a good story as well. Just glad it wasn’t me.

  16. Eeeek! What a story!! All that hard work…
    Well, the hard work was well worth it for those beautiful and delicious looking buns. Now I want to go make another batch… 🙂

  17. Great post. It’s funny how the best of intentions sometimes don’t work out…
    Your buns came out beautifully – very clever idea!

  18. Your buns are just making me drool (I know that sounds bad, but you know what I mean;)Your painting is gorgeous. So talented and I wish I had a couple of them right now to sample. Great story about the painting:)

  19. I love your site and your food!

  20. I adore the way you’ve painted those characters on the buns – it’s so inspired and makes them look even more gorgeous! What a wonderful post 🙂

  21. LOL – I always pick the little bits of pork from my fried rice and eat it separately. the peas too.

    Those buns a little heaps of gorgeousness. Stuffed to the brim gorgeousness, which is how it should be! Great job as always!

  22. These look gorgeous . . . love the painting. Your story didn’t have such a happy ending, but I think it was incredibly nice of you to work so hard to redecorate your parent’s breakfast nook. Hey, your heart was in the right place.

  23. Oh my Lord, what a nightmarish memory! I’m still traumatized by the yelling session that took place when I accidentally made a scratch in my mother’s dining table with a cutter (and I’m fairly sure that table was never worth very much), I can’t imagine what would have happened if I’d tampered with a priceless painting! But I guess those memories are what make us who we are…

    I really wanted to do this month’s challenge, as I love pork buns, but I can’t seem to do any real cooking these days. Plus, I have a cold, so I’m not tasting much anyway. But your bao look incredible! Beautifully decorated, with a perfect shiny crust… Yum!

  24. I’m in awe of your Chinese characters–I can never get them just right. I do have a Japanese name stamp around here somewhere–maybe I can use that on something. Great story about the duck paintings–sometimes the most hideous stuff is the most valuable. Did you get any fried rice made? I finally got around to it today, then realized I had eaten all the char siu. Looks like I’ll be doing this again soon…

  25. I can’t stop looking at these. So cool!

  26. Those buns look delectable and that duck painting story is a doozy.

  27. Those pork buns look so great! Your story of the painting is so sad…oops! But I was quite impressed by your resourcefulness too 🙂 Your Asian characters look so pretty on the pork buns what a good idea. Great job Lisa! xoxo Suz

  28. Oh my favourite snack, any left?

    Loving the chinese characters, brilliant.

  29. Lisa, what a brilliant idea to do Chinese calligraphy on top! They look beautiful! I went to Chinese school for a few years and it looks like the writing that we were all aiming for! 🙂

  30. Wow, three posts since I’ve been away, you’ve been one busy cook. I love your story in this post but I’m loving the pork buns more. Wishing you could send me a care package of your gorgeous pork buns. Another wonderful post. Give a call when you have some free time.

  31. Lisa you always have the craziest stories! And yes lots of ugly art is actually an investment. At least your parents are still talking to you 😉 Those buns looks amazing and love the matcha symbols. I love those bakeries too.

  32. Oh Lisa, what a story! You are indeed very resourceful though 🙂 And the buns look fantastic, bravo.

  33. Wow, that’s quite an entertaining and interesting story! mmm.. I love your Char Siu Paos! They’re usually steamed instead of baked so I would consider the baked ones a treat for me! 🙂 Also, good job on your calligraphy!

  34. I love the story and the buns are perfect! You are a most creative baker…

  35. Lovely buns and very good idea Japanese calligraphy for a festive message.
    Love the story and can hardly imagine your father’s feeling and your embaressement, but I am sure your love for each other is beyond any material disaster! 🙂
    Hope you had a reat festive time, wish you a sparkling 2012, full of joy and serenity, bbd recap will be on-line soon, I am working at it! 🙂

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