Chinese Steam Bun – MantouJump to Recipe
Not every type of bun comes with a filling inside! Soft and fluffy, Mantou is a type of Chinese steam bun with nothing inside! Plain and simple, it’s a great substitute for when you get tired of rice or need a quick snack to-go.
What Are Chinese Steam Bun?
Each culture has its own version of baked goods and there are hundreds of different kinds of buns, each with its own unique name. Mantou is a type of Chinese steam bun that is white, soft and fluffy. They are especially popular in northern China, but you can find them here at your local Asian supermarket. You’re probably more familiar with baozi, which is a more common type of Chinese bun. You can learn more about the different kinds of buns here.
In olden times, mantou could mean filled or unfilled steamed buns. Today, it generally refers to unfilled buns but in the Jiangnan region of China, mantou is still used for both kinds. The unfilled variation is often a substitute for rice during meals.
Why Are They Called Mantou?
Mantou gets its name from an ancient Chinese folklore tale. The name sounds like the word for “barbarian’s head” (mántóu, 蠻頭).
The legend talks about a general who leads his army to conquer the southern lands of Shu, present-day Yunnan, China and northern Myanmar. After defeating Shu’s king, the army began their journey home but encountered a swift-flowing river that seemed impossible to cross. A barbarian lord informed the general that in order to cross, barbarians would sacrifice 50 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river god. The general must do the same with his men if he wished to pass.
Not wanting to sacrifice his men, the general ordered them to slaughter the livestock the army had brought along and fill their meat into buns shaped roughly like human heads. The buns were thrown into the river instead and after successfully crossing, the general named the bun “barbarian’s head” or mantou.
Today, mantou comes in all shapes and sizes. Some people shape them into more traditional-looking steam buns with the signature twist at the top. Others decorate them with cartoon characters and beautiful colours. You can even find fried versions covered in condensed milk!
Chinese Steam Bun Mantou
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp instant yeast
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 ¼ cup lukewarm water
- Dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Then add the yeast and mix everything together. Let it sit, undisturbed, for 10 minutes or until a head of foam forms over the water. The sugar will feed the yeast and help with the activation process.
- Sift together the remaining dry ingredients in a bowl. When 10 minutes have passed and the yeast water mixture is ready, slowly add it to the bowl of dry ingredients.
- Knead the flour and water together until it becomes a smooth ball of dough.
- Cover the ball of dough with a cloth and let it rise for about 2 hours in a warm spot. The dough should rise to at least double and maybe even triple its original size.
- Once the dough has finished rising, sprinkle your work surface with some flour.
- Roll out the dough into a long log and use a sharp knife to cut it into however many equal pieces you’d like.
- Cut out small squares of parchment paper, one for each bun, and place each bun seam side down on a paper.
- Arrange them in a steamer, about 2-inches apart. Cover the steamer and let the buns rise again for another 15 to 20 minutes or until they are springy to the touch.
- When the buns are finally ready to steam, turn on the heat to medium-high and fill the bottom of the steamer with water. Steam the buns for 20 minutes.
- After the buns are finished steaming, let them cool for 5 minutes before serving! To re-heat them later, it is recommended to re-steam them for 5 minutes. Microwaving them can dry the buns out. Enjoy!