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.

Crispy Gau Gee

September 26: National Dumpling Day

In a past post on Chop Suey Day (August 29), we mentioned that Islander’s first family home in Hawaii when she was a baby was an apartment in Aiea, Oahu, located in a strip mall. She and her ‘ohana had lived above a Chinese restaurant named Waimalu Chop Suey. Chop suey was a fad food back in the day so the restaurant needed to re-brand itself to stay relevant. Waimalu Chop Suey is now famous for its giant, crispy pork-filled dumplings and calls itself the “House of Gau Gee”.

Now we make mini gau gee on the mainland to satisfy Islander’s Chinese and local food cravings. The size is smaller than the big ones at Waimalu Chop Suey to ensure that the pork filling is cooked all the way through. We fold them in the easy and traditional rectangle shape, but the dumplings can be turned into won tons as well.

These delightful dumplings make delicious appetizers and noodle toppers (gau gee mein) and are perfect pouches for observing National Dumpling Day.


(Adapted from Foodland)


  • 1 pound ground pork
  • ¼ pound shrimp, fresh, raw, peeled, deveined and chopped fine
  • ¼ cup green onions, sliced thinly
  • 1 can (4 ounces) water chestnuts, drained and chopped fine
  • 1-inch piece ginger, grated
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • won ton wrappers


In a large bowl, mix the ground pork with the shrimp and green onions.

Add the water chestnuts, ginger, garlic, oyster sauce and soy sauce.

Mix well. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes to let the flavors blend (optional). Separate the won ton wrappers. Place a tablespoon of the pork mixture and stretch it across the middle of a wrapper. Dip finger in water and moisten along the edges. Fold over in half and press to seal. This may be done assembly-style.

Place between sheets of waxed paper. Freeze for 30 minutes to hold its shape (optional). Deep fry in hot oil at 350 degrees F until golden brown and crispy. Drain on paper towels. Serve with sauce (sweet and sour, duck, chili or hot mustard).


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