Saturday, January 2, 2010


I debated for a few minutes about the title of this post. Should it be manapua, which is a contrived Hawaiian word, or should it be mea'ono pua'a, which literally means pork/pig dessert (and from which we get the word manapua) or should it be char siu bao, in honor of its and my Chinese heritage? But I grew up calling it manapua and most everybody else i know calls it that, so that is how the title came to be.

Yesterday, we celebrated New Year's Day by having a potluck of primarily Chinese food. I steamed some pak/bok choy, Glen made noodles, and I chose to make manapua.  I didn't even know you could MAKE manapua until one particular New Year's Eve at my kumu hula's house (Mililani Allen). She had "make your own manapua" and my kids (and I) were flabbergasted. I thought manapua was an exclusive secret recipe only know by those who work at Libby's or Char Hun Sut (?) in Chinatown. I made manapua a couple times before but part of my problem is that I find a recipe, I make it, it turns out good and then the next time I want to make it again, I can't remember where the recipe is. So this blog serves two purposes: I can share all my recipes with you AND I have a place to go to that houses my faves. HA! Clever.

So I went on a search of recipes and ended up settling on one that came from a Honolulu Star Bulletin article written by KS grade, Catherine Enomoto (I have met her and I LIKE HER!). It seemed the easiest and most trustworthy (I have used HSB recipes before). The recipe comes from  "The Food of Paradise" cookbook by Rachel Lauden (University of Hawai'i Press, 1996, $24.95), and char siu and manapua filling recipes from the Gas Co. "Blue Flame Notebook" October 1982 flier.
So here it is as it appears in the article with my own mana'o in parenthesis.

Manapua (Savory Stuffed Buns)

 Bun dough:
1 package dry yeast
3 tablespoons lukewarm water
2 cups warm water
1-1/2 tablespoons cooking oil or shortening (I used oil as I don't generally keep shortening in my pantry)
1/4 cup sugar
3/4 teaspoon salt
6 cups sifted flour (I don't own a sifter. This is a siftless house)
1/2 tablespoon sesame oil

1 cup water
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 pound char siu, diced (see recipe below) (I threw big chunks of char siu into my food processor and pulsed it a few times. It came out JUST like the char siu looks in a manapua. I was pretty darn proud of myself)
Few drops red food coloring, optional (didn't do this. i don't need more red dye in my body)

To prepare bun dough: Sprinkle yeast over 3 tablespoons water and allow to stand until yeast softens. To remaining water, add oil or shortening, sugar and salt, stirring until melted or dissolved. Cool. Add yeast mixture.
Place flour in a large mixing bowl or a heavy-duty mixer and add most of the liquid. Begin kneading. Add remaining liquid to make a very heavy dough. Continue kneading or mixing until you have a smooth ball that is beginning to show signs of long strands on the outside, indicating that the gluten has fully developed. (I did the wet ingredients in a bowl and then used my kitchenaid mixer and dough hook for the flour portion. I started with 3 cups of flower in the bowl, added some of the liquid and then kept adding more flour and more of the liquid. I added about 1/2 more flour than the recipe called for because I thought the dough was too "runny", if dough can be runny.)

Remove dough from bowl and rinse out bowl. Pour sesame oil into bowl, return dough and turn it around until covered with a thin layer of the oil. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise until double in bulk -- about an hour in a warm room. Placing the dough in the refrigerator and allowing it to rise there, 3-6 hours, develops the flavor. (I skipped the refrigerator part. Ran out of time so my dough just rose one time). Proceed with the filling or gently deflate the dough and allow it to rise for a second time, which will further enhance the flavor.

To prepare filling: In a pot, stir cornstarch, sugar and salt in water until dissolved. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add char siu and, if desired, red food coloring. (I was in a bit of a rush, so I just had a big frying pan, I put the char siu in (w/ 1/2 c. green onions) and then just added the rest of the ingredients. Then I put it all into a bowl and put that into the fridge to cool it faster).

To stuff and steam buns: Heat a steamer with plenty of water. Cut 12 (3-inch) squares of waxed paper and coat 1 side with 1/2 second coat of nonstick cooking spray.
Punch down dough and divide into 12 pieces. Roll each into a ball. Flatten into a circle about 6 inches in diameter. Make the dough as thin as you can and try to keep the edges thinner than the center.
Place the circle of dough in the palm of your hand. Spoon in a couple of tablespoons of filling, cupping the dough around it. Then, with the thumb and finger of the other hand, pinch the edges of the dough as if you were making a fluted edging on a pie crust. Pinch the folds together, twisting them as you do so.
Local manapua are usually served fold-side down, and Vietnamese manapua with the twirl of dough on top. Place the completed manapua on a square of greased waxed paper. Allow to plump up into a globe with a taut exterior. Place in steamer on their squares of paper about 1 to 2 inches apart.

Cover and steam vigorously for 15 minutes. If using a metal steamer, place a folded tea towel across top of steamer, holding it in position with the lid. This will prevent steam from dropping onto manapua. If using a bamboo steamer, this is not necessary. Remove steamer from heat, let stand 5 minutes, then open. Serve hot. Makes 12 buns. (Maybe mine were small, but I made about 20 buns. I just kept going until I ran out of char siu mix, and then with the leftover dough, I made little disks and folded them in half. This created the manapua buns you can buy at the Chinese Restaurant, and then stuff it with whatever. I saw people at our potluck stuffing them with the likes of nori chicken (not very Chinese) and spicy 'ahi (also not very Chinese. People were very creative.)


  1. omg! There needs to be a good manapua in Hilo!! I always have to fill my manapua craving in Honoluu!!

  2. I lost touch with a good friend who used to make the most amazing manapua.... I'm gonna try yours! How long does it take start to pau do you think?



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