As much as I love Canada, I have yet to find any street food here that compares to that of my (first) home country of Taiwan. Every time I get on a plane to visit my family there, I start salivating just thinking about the crispy scallion pancakes, soy-braised minced pork and eggs on rice, and the mountains of shaved ice with fresh mango and papaya I will shortly consume.
One of my favourite Taiwanese dishes is the gua bao. You may have seen versions of the “bao” on menus at some of your favourite restaurants lately, but the gua bao is a specific kind of steamed bun sandwich typically filled with braised pork belly, cucumber, pickled mustard greens, cilantro and crushed peanuts. If you have a hard time finding pickled mustard greens, fret not. Although I hate to deviate too much from tradition on this one, it’s possible to combine the pork belly and steamed bun base with an infinite number of ingredients, and many other kinds of pickled vegetables would work (in a pinch, give kimchi a try).
Given how salty, fatty and succulent the pork belly is, this is a dish that really pairs well with a craft beer. A Golden Ale is an excellent choice (I love the one from Toronto’s Sweetgrass Brewing Co.), as it’s light and refreshing enough to cut through the richness, but strong enough to stand up against the weight of the pork.
Tip: If you don’t have the time or desire to make your own steam buns, they are easily and readily available for purchase at most Asian grocery stores.
Ingredients: For the Pork Belly:
2lb (one slab) skin-on pork belly
3 bunches of scallions, cut in half crosswise
10 slices of ginger
1 tsp Chinese Five Spice Powder
2 cups Shaoxing wine
½ cup light soy sauce
½ cup dark soy sauce
Handful of rock sugar
For the Steamed Buns:
1 cup white flour
½ cup water
1 tsp instant yeast
½ tsp baking powder
1 tsp honey or sugar
1 tsp Canola or coconut oil
A pinch of salt
A little oil for brushing
Bamboo steamer basket
For the Classic Gua Bao Assembly:
1 package pickled mustard greens, chopped
1 cup crushed peanuts
1 cucumber, sliced thinly
1 bunch of cilantro, chopped very loosely
For the Steamed Buns
- Combine the yeast with the sugar or honey and the warm water in a bowl and let sit for 5-8 minutes to activate.
- Mix in the flour, 1 tsp oil, baking powder and salt, and start kneading the dough until it forms a smooth ball, or around 10 minutes.
- Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover and let rise for about 1 hour in a warm environment.
- After 1 hour, punch the dough down to release all the air bubbles and fold the dough over itself a few times to reshape it back into a smooth ball again and place back in bowl to rise slightly for another 20-30 minutes.
- Cut your parchment paper into squares and lay them out on a flat surface.
- Once the dough has slightly risen again, punch the dough down and form into a log. Cut into 12-14 equal pieces.
- Roll out each of the small pieces of dough into oval shapes, and place each of these pieces carefully onto the squares of parchment paper. Fold the pieces of dough in half, while brushing the insides with oil to allow for easy opening, once steamed.
- Place buns into the steamer basket. Over a large pot of boiling water, steam on high heat for 10 minutes.
For the Pork Belly
- Bring a large pot of water to a boil and blanch the whole slab of pork belly for 1 minute. Drain and cut the pork into generously large cubes (to your liking).
- In a medium thick-walled pot (a clay pot is ideal for the most traditional flavour and an Instant Pot or pressure cooker is ideal for the quickest cooking), lay down the scallions and ginger. Add the pork (skin-side down), followed by the Shaoxing wine, the Chinese Five Spice Powder, and both kinds of soy sauce. Add the rock sugar at the end (it’s best to let it sit on top of the pork).
- Cover the pot and cook on medium-high heat for 30 minutes. Reduce the heat, and simmer for an additional 30 minutes. Flip the pork over and simmer for up to 30 minutes more, depending on your preference. If you’re using an Instant Pot or pressure cooker, you can cook the pork on high pressure for 30 minutes in total, followed by a 10-minute cool down.
For the Assembly:
- Slice the pork and place a generous slab in each of the steamed buns.
- Top with the combination of ingredients suggested above, or any other combination of ingredients you would like. I suggest having one fresh, one pickled, and one crunchy ingredient for the best results!