06 October 2011

A bun in the...steamer.

Manapua is basically the term Hawaiian locals use for their interpretation of what most people elsewhere know as char siu bao (Chinese steamed buns with shredded pork filling). They're also available in baked form. When I was a child, my dad would bring home loads of frozen manapua (the steamed version, which is most common) upon returning from business trips to Hawaii, courtesy of my grandmother. She liked to send my dad home with all sorts of local foods, some purchased (like the manapua), others homemade (such as turon, a banana spring roll). Grandma still keeps to those old ways, so my parents always seem to have an endless supply of treats they ate when they lived in Hawaii. As a result, I've seen more than my healthy share of chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in my day, but that's beside the point.
We would normally re-steam manapua in the microwave for a nearly-instant lunch, but it was also good as a quick, small dinner for one. I didn't like the pork filling all that much when I was a kid, but loved the bread (surprise, surprise). I would usually just eat the bread around the filling, passing the meat off to someone else. In previous attempts at making vegan versions of the buns, I made a tofu filling inspired by this hoisin bun recipe that uses seitan. I've heard that jackfruit mimics the texture of shredded pork, which would seemingly make it more ideal as a manapua filling than other meat substitutes. I consulted the char siu recipe from Authentic Chinese Cuisine for the Contemporary Kitchen (Bryanna Clark Grogan, 2000), using drained jackfruit (the canned type that is stored in brine) and just over half of the sauce from the recipe. The results were indeed very much like stringy shreds of meat. The jackfruit didn't taste quite like the manapua filling I knew as a kid, but the five-spice flavor was a nice touch. I also used the dough recipe from Bryanna's book, but used half cake flour and half all-purpose flour to lighten the texture of the cooked buns. The result was airy buns with a delightful, sweet-savory center with deceivingly unappetizing looks.
I didn't end up having enough jackfruit to make manapua from all the dough, but I did happen to have homemade tsubu an (chunky, sweet red bean paste). So I made a few sweet buns. I originally meant to distinguish them from the manapua by marking each red bean bun with a single red dot, but I got carried away and decided to try to make bunnies. Or bun-nies. (Sorry. I couldn't resist the wordplay.) It's difficult to tell whether they look cute or borderline evil. At least they're not real bunnies. We don't eat animals around here, obviously.
Dad's business trips to Hawaii also enabled us to occasionally eat saimin when I was a kid. It is a dish that is much like ramen: thin, egg-based noodles in clear, savory dashi (broth). We would get the frozen noodles that came with a little packet of dashi powder. All one needed to do was to boil water, add the powder, then add the noodles, heating them until they were cooked through. Typical add-ins were kamaboko (fish cake), spam, and sliced green onions, but one could load up the bowl with anything he or she desired.

Neither the noodles nor dashi powder are usually vegan, so recreating saimin initially sounded a bit challenging. Sure, I could throw thin spaghetti noodles in plain old vegetable broth, but the resulting concoction would not have the flavor or texture that would appropriately resemble the dish's traditional counterpart. I managed to find egg-free ramen noodles at a Japanese grocery store, but the dashi was still problematic. After wondering what I could use to replicate the deep, savory flavor of a traditionally fish-seasoned broth, I decided to make my vegan version with kombu dashi with sauteed onions and mushrooms and a splash of shoyu. Add-ins included shredded cabbage, baby bok choy, chopped tofu "ham," and sliced green onions. Much to my surprise and delight, my saimin tasted quite similar to the non-vegan original. The hot, flavorful broth and chewy noodles were so comforting. It's nice to know that I can still enjoy a hearty bowl of saimin.


  1. I cannot even begin to tell you how good this looks!

  2. Aw I love your manapuas! They look professional! 

  3. veganinbrighton10/7/11, 5:44 AM

    The steamed bunny buns look so cute & of course, delicious!

  4. <3 The bunny is super cute. I'd probably feel guilty about biting into it. Just for a second though.

  5. I lived in Japan for a year as a non vegan about 4 years ago, and now I miss ramen desperately! Your noodle bowl looks awesome.

  6. Great job on the manapuas! Love the bunnies! They look just like the ones from a restaurant! :-)

  7. Richa@HobbyAndMore10/8/11, 11:09 PM

    those rabbits sure do look cute and trying to hypnotize me type!:) 
    Richa @ http://hobbyandmore.blogspot.com/

  8. BUN-nies, haha! They're adorable. I can't believe how much like shredded pork that jackfruit looks! And that saimin... You have a knack for recreating flavors for sure.

  9. Looks great! Do you have a recipe written?


Thanks for reading! Your comments are always welcome and appreciated. :)