Tasty, moist pork wrapped with half-soft, half-crispy dough, Shanghai pan-fried pork buns, traditionally served as breakfast, make a great party food.
Like many modern cities, Shanghai is full of wonderful choices when it comes to food. I had numerous scrumptious meals during my trips there. The diversity and creativity of this giant city’s culinary profile was quite impressive. However, the most memorable meal I had there was at a humble, busy breakfast stall which served the local speciality: Sheng Jian Bao (生煎包), pan-fried pork buns.
Sheng Jian Bao (aka Sheng Jian Mantou, 生煎馒头) is a type of Chinese bun which is fried then steamed in a flat pan. The wrapper is made from yeast dough and the filling contains minced pork, spring onion and various seasonings. It’s quite small in size, similar to a golf ball or even smaller.
In Shanghai, pan-fried pork buns are traditionally served as breakfast at little cafes and street stalls. They are often cooked in a large pan in front of the queueing customers. Truly fresh and super tasty, those buns are simply irresistible! The wrapper has a lovely soft texture with a golden, crispy base . The filling is very flavoursome and moist.
A few years ago, I got a chance to learn the technique of making pan-fried pork buns from a Shanghainese friend. I found it rather simple as it was very similar to how we cook Shui Jian Bao (水煎包, means water-fried buns literally, often vegetarian) in the North-west of China where I grew up. There are five steps to follow:
1. Make the dough. It’s a type of simple yeast dough used in many Chinese dishes, like the one I shared earlier: Spring onion flatbread.
2. Mix the filling. The minced pork is seasoned with spring onion, ginger, light soy sauce, rice wine, Sichuan pepper and sesame oil, etc. In order to make the cooked filling soft and moist, you need to gradually add quite a bit of water (or even better, chicken stock) to the mixture. Stir constantly until no more liquid can be seen.
3. Shape the buns. In this part, you might find it a bit intimidating to seal the buns. It is time consuming if you are not familiar with the folding technique. But I’m sure you’ll soon get the hang of it (please refer to the images above for instructions).
4. Fry the buns. Firstly, crisp the bottom part of the buns in hot oil. Then pour water into the pan and cover with a lid. The steam will help to cook through pretty quickly. A tip: You can either put the folded side facing up or down (As shown in the photos below, I cooked a panful in two ways). Just remember to securely seal the top if you prefer the latter to avoid any juice leaking from the filling.
5. Sprinkle the garnish. I particular like this final touch. Sprinkle finely chopped spring onion and toasted sesame seeds onto the buns at the very last stage of cooking. The remaining steam in the pan helps these sprinkles to stick onto the wrappers. Not only does it looks pretty, it also adds extra flavour to the buns.
I often make Shanghai pan-fried pork buns for parties. It’s a perfect finger food that’s loved by young and old. If you wish, prepare some dipping sauce on the side. For example, you can use the dressing recipes for Chinese cold dishes, such as cucumber salad, pork rind jelly, etc.. Don’t forget to add a dash of homemade chilli oil if you fancy spicing up the buns.
If you are interested, have a look at the following video that I made for “Homemade Dumpling Wrappers“, you will see how I roll wrappers with a rolling pin.
Have a lovely day!
More classic dishes with delectable fillings: