08 August

Manapua (Char Siu Bao)

(BBQ Pork Buns)

August 22: National Bao Day

Wow for “Bao”! The animated short film from Pixar won an Oscar in February 2019, the first for a female and Asian creator Domee Shi. The cute, little movie is about a Chinese empty-nester mom who misses her son so much that she dreams that the baozi (bun) she makes is actually her boy. Watch an edited version of the Academy Award-winning film below:

Islander’s Mommy used to make bao for the family, too, with shredded shoyu (soy sauce) chicken or different savory fillings. Her Filipino version is called siopao, derived from the Chinese char siu bao, which is typically filled with an auspiciously red-colored chopped barbecued pork. In Hawaii, this ‘ono (delicious) bao is known as manapua.

Now that Mommy is an empty-nester herself and nearing her eighties, she rarely makes them anymore and simply buys a few manapua from the trucks, bakeries or grocery stores on Oahu for herself and Daddy.

But Islander wanted to learn and continue the tradition and make fresh, homemade manapua as it has become a special ritual for her and her ‘ohana (family) to stay connected to each other and their culture. It may be a little time-consuming to make these little dumpling buns, but it gives everyone some time to “talk story” and spend quality time together.

Take inspiration from “Bao”, the Oscar movie, and make memories—and manapua/siopao/bao—for a delicious snack, especially on National Bao Day!


(Adapted from “Dim Sum Made Easy” by Lucille Liang)

For the dough

  • 3 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • ¼ cup lukewarm water
  • 1 cup milk
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder (added after the first rise)

For the char siu (barbecue pork) filling

  • ½ – ¾ pound Chinese-style barbecue roast pork, chopped finely
  • ½ cup water
  • 1 ½ teaspoons all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ tapioca flour/starch
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar
  • 1 ½ teaspoons oyster sauce
  • 1 ½ teaspoons sesame oil
  • red food coloring (optional)


Make the buns by placing the flour in a large mixing bowl. In a measuring cup, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. In a small saucepan, heat the milk over the stove until warm. Remove from the stovetop. Stir in the sugar to dissolve.

Stir in the yeast mixture into the milk mixture. Slowly pour everything over the flour and mix well. Knead to form a soft dough. Cover with a damp cotton towel or cloth. Let the dough rise in a warm place for two or more hours until it is doubled in size.

Meanwhile, prepare the pork filling by chopping it finely into tiny squares. Set aside. Pour water into a small saucepan and place it on the stovetop. Mix in the flour and tapioca starch.

Stir in the soy sauce, sugar, oyster sauce and sesame oil. Heat on medium and stir until thickened.

Add the chopped pork and mix well. Stir in some red food coloring. Remove from the stovetop and let the filling cool. Cut out two-inch squares of wax paper. Lightly oil it. Set aside.

Place the risen dough on a clean, lightly floured surface. Punch down and fold in the baking powder, kneading for another 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and softer. Sprinkle occasionally with flour to prevent from sticking. Roll out the dough into a long sausage shape about 1½ inch thick.

Divide and cut into 20 pieces. Roll into a ball. Flatten the ball into discs with a rolling pin.

Place a heaping tablespoon of filling into the middle. Gather up the edges, twist and seal the bottoms. Place seam-side down onto a greased wax paper square. Continue assembling the other buns and place on a baking sheet.

Cover the buns with a damp cotton towel or cloth. Let them rise for another half hour. In a lightly greased steamer, place the buns a few inches apart. Cover and steam above boiling water for 15 minutes. Carefully lift the lid of the steamer and transfer the buns to a wire rack to cool slightly. Serve hot.


  • We tried making the traditional twisty tops like the one in the “Bao” Pixar animated short film but prefer the smooth rounded shape instead (it is also what we are most used to but still tastes ‘ono).
  • We made our char siu barbecued pork filling the day ahead of assembling the manapua. Refrigerating the filling allows it to be less “wet” and is easier to scoop into the flattened dough.
  • The filling used in the “Bao” movie is seasoned ground pork and scallions instead of chopped char siu. Here is the link to Domee Shi’s mom’s recipe.
  • We used both a bamboo and stovetop steamer but prefer the former as the wood absorbs more moisture and won’t drip some condensation water on the smooth manapua tops when lifting the lids.
  • Steam and cool all the manapua. IF there are any leftovers, wrap tightly with plastic wrap and freeze in a zipper top bag. Re-steam for 15-20 minutes. Steaming instead of microwaving keeps the buns soft.
  • There are different kinds of manapua with various sweet or savory fillings. The buns may be steamed or baked—and even fried! But each dough is different for steaming, baking and frying.

Mary Queen of Heaven Cake

August 22: Feast of the Queenship of Mary

Hail, Holy Queen! Mary Queen of Heaven was the inspiration for the cake we made for a prayer party at a Catholic university in South Texas where Islander’s brother ministers/works/lives on campus. The sparkly accents reflect her regal splendor while the white cake symbolizes her virginity and purity. The contrasting blue cake balls inside represent the precious baby boy, her son Jesus, whom she carried in her womb.

Many honorific titles are given to Mary. This down-to-earth maiden who was chosen to be the Mother of God had a great responsibility, which she accepted gracefully. For her love and sacrifice, she is both humbled yet exalted. Likewise, our Mary Queen of Heaven cake is simple yet elegant. But it was appropriate for our celebration during the Feast of the Queenship of Mary.


For the blue cake balls


In a bowl, combine the cake mix, water, oil and egg whites. Blend until the batter is smooth. In a greased cake ball/pop pan, fill the wells with the batter. Secure the top part of the pan.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 15-20 minutes. Cool and remove from the pan. Trim the excess from the cake balls.

For the white cake


Line two 8-inch round pans with waxed paper. Mist with cooking spray. Arrange blue cake balls in the pan. In a mixing bowl, combine the white cake mix, water, vegetable and egg whites. Blend until smooth. Divide batter into two. Pour over the cake balls in each pan.

Bake in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F for 30 minutes, testing the cake for doneness. Remove from the oven and let cool completed. Slice off the top mound to make the cake even. Smear a cake board with a little vanilla buttercream. Invert the cake onto the board.

Frost the top and sides with vanilla buttercream. Dust a clean surface with powdered sugar or cornstarch to prevent the fondant from sticking. Roll out 1/8 inch thick and large enough to cover the cake.

Smooth the fondant on the cake and trim away the excess. Position the decorations on the cake (crown, initial M and rhinestone ribbon). Place the cake on a pedestal. Slice and serve.


  • We used two blue cake mixes to make several cake balls. We used two white cake mixes to make two 8-inch cakes and one 10-inch cake.
  • Try changing the color combinations of the cake mixes for different occasions.



August 21: National Spumoni Day

Another hot summer day calls for a cool dessert like spumoni, a colorful confection created by the ever-clever Italians with three layers and flavors of gelato (or ice cream). Similar to Neapolitan ice cream with its pink (cherry or strawberry), vanilla and chocolate layers, spumoni, which is the plural form of spumone, derived from the word “foam”, consists of cherry, pistachio and either vanilla or chocolate Italian ice cream flavors. Some have fruit and nuts between the layers.

We chose to make our spumoni with the fruit and nuts already embedded in the gelato. And we combined pistachio, vanilla (instead of chocolate) and cherry flavors to make a pastel version of the Italian flag.

Have a slice of simple spumoni during the summer and on National Spumoni Day.



  • Pistachio gelato or ice cream, softened
  • Vanilla gelato or ice cream, softened
  • Cherry gelato or ice cream, softened
  • Red food coloring


Line a large loaf pan with plastic wrap, extending over the sides so that it is easier to lift out when unmolding the spumoni. Spread the softened pistachio gelato or ice cream as the bottom layer about an inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm. Remove the loaf pan from the freezer and take off the plastic wrap. Spread the softened vanilla gelato or ice cream on top of the pistachio layer about an inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm.

Remove the loaf pan from the freezer and take off the plastic wrap. In a large bowl, stir the softened cherry gelato or ice cream with a few drops of red food coloring until it turns pink. Spread this on top of the vanilla layer about an inch thick. Cover with plastic wrap and freeze until firm.

Remove the loaf pan from the freezer and take off the top plastic wrap. Grab the plastic wrap from the sides and lift out the entire spumoni and unmold onto a cutting board. Slice and serve immediately.


  • Canada’s National Spumoni Day is on November 13.
  • Neapolitan ice cream is also of Italian origin (Naples). Inspired by the colors of pink, white and brown, we made macarons and a rosé wine-chocolate naked wedding cake.
  • Search our blog for other ice cream recipes.


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