Making: Bao Buns

Tips and tricks to master that fluffy Taiwanese hamburger

My experience with bao has been a short but passionate affair. I was initiated into this delicious world quite recently. Previously, I had never given it much thought, or perhaps I thought I wouldn’t enjoy it. I first came across bao when, not expecting much, I nonchalantly ordered it from Bone Daddies in England on Deliveroo, merely as a side to my ramen. It completely changed the takeaway and restaurant game for me – I was hooked. When I returned to Dublin for the semester, I was determined to find restaurants that would match that pillowy deliciousness. The lockdown limitations in the city made this difficult, but I couldn’t let it get in the way of my mission. My boyfriend and I made our way to Bao House on Aungier Street, but, unable to sit indoors, we had to grab our bao and quickly decide where to eat it. It was pouring rain and, left with little choice, we ended up on the stairs of the St Stephen’s Green shopping centre, cheeks bulging and sauce dripping down our chins with people staring as they tried to squeeze past. It was that good. In terms of accessibility, Bowls in North Dublin makes fantastic bao that travels well with delivery.

The original bao consists of an enclosed steamed bun that emerged in Chinese culture in the third century. However, the bao I’m talking about is a development from this and is actually Taiwanese. Instead of being an enclosed bun, the Gua Bao is oval-shaped and surrounds the fillings in the same way a burger bun would. Traditionally a form of street food, bao can be adapted to any culinary event. They can be eaten as snacks, as starters for a meal or even as a main. The traditional filling for this Taiwanese bun is generally a variation on braised pork belly, coriander, pickled greens of some kind, and crushed peanuts. There are many recipes on the internet for authentic meaty fillings. However, being a vegetarian, I will be talking about alternative fillings.

Over the Christmas period, my family and I found ourselves with little to do. With lockdown measures becoming increasingly restrictive, boredom was imminent and inevitable. We decided to host a family Come Dine With Me. I instantly knew that bao would be a show-stopping main for this dinner party; it is not overly fancy or pretentious, but still delicious. I was surprised at how easy it is to make, too. 

Ten Bao Buns Ingredients: 


  • 375 grams of plain flour
  • 1 tsp of dry yeast
  • 2 tbsp caster sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp of baking powder
  • 225 ml of warm water
  • vegetable oil (for brushing)

To make ten bao buns, mix the dry ingredients (plain flour, dry yeast, caster sugar, salt, baking powder) in a bowl and then incorporate the water. Knead until the dough is smooth but sticky – about five minutes. Then let the dough rest for about an hour and a half in an oiled bowl and cover with a tea towel. When the resting time has passed, knead the dough briefly for a few seconds, before separating it into ten evenly sized balls. Using your hands, or gently with a rolling pin, flatten the dough balls into 1cm thick oval-shaped discs. Brush the exposed side with the oil (preferably some kind of vegetable oil, as olive oil is too strong) and fold the disc over a chopstick so that the two sides perfectly overlap. Place each bun on a sheet of baking parchment, and leave to rest for another half hour. You may need to cut the baking parchment so that it later fits the size of your steamer.

During the first hour and a half of the dough resting, you could make the fillings. I went with deep-fried aubergine, saucy mushrooms, and pickled cucumbers.

Deep-fried Aubergine:


  • 2 aubergines
  • Salt
  • 1 cucumber
  • 100ml rice-wine vinegar
  • 2 tbsp water
  • Coconut oil (for frying)

To start, chop the aubergines into 2cm discs, and then into triangles and cover them in salt in a colander so that you get rid of the bitter water. Then halve and deseed the cucumber and slice it finely. To a pan, add the rice-wine vinegar and the water until it simmers. Then pour it over the cucumber slices in a bowl and leave to pickle. After about an hour of leaving the aubergines, rinse them and fry them in the coconut oil. Alternatively, you could coat them in breadcrumbs to have a more intense fried flavour and added texture, or you could fry them as they are, like I did. Once fried, set the aubergines aside.

Saucy Mushrooms:


  • 6 tbsp soy sauce
  • 4 tbsp peanut butter (adjust to taste)
  • 8 tsp rice-wine vinegar
  • 4 crushed garlic cloves
  • 4 tsp sesame oil in a bowl. 
  • 600g of mushrooms
  • Vegetable oil (for frying)

To make the glaze for the mushrooms, whisk together the soy sauce, peanut butter, rice-wine vinegar, crushed garlic cloves and the sesame oil in a bowl. I actually found that the taste of peanut butter was a bit too pronounced so this would be something to adjust to taste. Roughly chop the mushrooms into thin slices – you can use any mushrooms, but I used a combination of shitake and oyster mushrooms for more variety and tastiness. Then heat the oil in a saucepan and fry the mushrooms on high heat, until they have softened and browned. Stir in the glaze you have just made and leave to cook on medium heat so the flavours amalgamate and the sauce reduces, for about five minutes.

Homemade Sriracha Mayonnaise


  • 2 eggs
  • 250 ml rapeseed oil
  • Salt & pepper (to season)
  • Splash of white wine vinegar
  • Bit of sriracha

I then finished off my bao fillings with homemade sriracha mayonnaise (a completely optional but yummy addition), by mixing the eggs, oil, salt, pepper and vinegar and added sriracha at the end for some heat. You could obviously do this with shop-bought mayonnaise, but making it from scratch has a more liquid consistency and is more satisfying, not to mention more impressive for a dinner party.

The final stage of the bao-making process is easy; just steam the buns for about eight minutes (bamboo steamers are perfect and they are readily available and inexpensive). After this, all that is left is assembling the bun, the base here will consist of the fried aubergines and mushrooms which provide an incredible umami flavour, topped with the pickled cucumbers for some acidity and balanced out by the sriracha mayonnaise for some creaminess and spice, and finally some crushed peanuts for a crunchy texture. You know you’ve done it right if the contents of the bun are dribbling down your arms and chin as you eat.