Tag Archives: pork

Bun and pork belly, Momofuku and me


I almost started this post with a bad pun along the lines of “bun in the …” The alternative was a bland introduction that begs the question: everyone discovered Momofuku buns in 2007-08, why another post about it?

Because —

I have been eating steamed buns since childhood, and now I want to learn to make them.

I am slightly addicted to the combination of pork belly, soft steamed bun, herbs and hoi sin.

There is always room in the blogosphere for one more bun.

Besides, Momofuku took the pork belly bun to New York, while my bun goes for a stroll back to China.

Steam, magical steam


For people who have tried baking bread, you know bakers can talk forever about the right oven temperature, and how to control humidity to get the ‘spring’ in the dough (ice cubes, boiling water, spray bottle, you name it).

Steamed buns are blissfully simple by comparison. You boil water, place a steaming device over boiling water, and let the steam do its thing. There is no adjusting temperature, no adjusting humidity. Steam is steam is steam.

I once read a comment on an Australian recipe website, where someone complained about the texture of steamed buns. “It’s soft and wet”, she says in disgust, as though she expected a crispy browned crust.

So, just to clarify, steamed buns are ‘wet’ in the sense that there will be no browned crust. They will be soft, white, somewhat fluffy. If made well, your teeth should sink into a moist silken pile. The taste should be neutral (bland) so that they form the perfect foil for strong flavoured fillings.

They also look very different from your everyday sourdough rolls, and was a novel sight even in our kitchen, which sees its fair share of Chinese and Asian cooking. Mr Gander, and our friends, were all intrigued by the armada of freshly steamed buns, sitting pretty in the bamboo steamers.

The instructions are not hard to follow. All you need is a little patience, and a willingness to embrace steam, and you too can have white, fluffy (and ‘wet’) buns of your own.



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Childhood pork and garlic chives jiaozi (dumplings)


They say childhood memories can be the strongest memories.

The last time I made dumplings (jiaozi) from scratch was 20 years ago. Yet, when I began to make dumplings last week, I began to remember the scenes of our extended family and friends gathered around the large round dining table, surrounded by flour, dough, and general chatter.

Back in those days, we always made dumpling wrappers by hand. I didn’t even think we could buy wrappers. This was in the days before a supermarket (a proper Western-style supermarket) had opened up in our city, and there were still many, many, many bikes and barely any cars. Whatever we needed came from street vendors, little shops along the road, and the wet markets.

Dumplings were a group effort. Some made the filling – rich with the smell of garlic chives and rice wine, others kneaded the dough and cut it into small blobs. Then, a production line was formed: two or three people turned the blobs of dough into wrappers using those small rolling pins, and as soon as they were rolled out, another two or three people turned them into dumplings.

Soon, rows of neat dumplings would appear in the centre of the table. Plump, supple, prettily pleated into small crescent shapes.


Halfway through this production cycle, we would stop, boil some freshly made dumplings, and slurp them down with some soy and vinegar. Refreshed, we would return to the second half of our production line.

As children, we of course watched, chattered, played with dough, and generally got under the adults’ feet (literally!). After pestering our parents, we were sometimes given a small lump of dough, and a rolling pin, and were allowed to roll out wrappers. My first few attempts were, well, rustic looking to say the least. The blob of dough grew unexpected horns, tails, legs, and became a myriad of many-sided shapes – any shape except a circle.

When I tried to make dumplings, my childish greed always got the better of me. I over-filled the dumplings and the filling would escape between poorly sealed cracks.

The adults humoured us, and somehow fixed up those wrappers or dumplings.

Fast forward to Sydney.

I was a production line of one. But the chatter, noises, smells, and most of all the small, deft movements of the dumpling makers stayed with me while I made the 50-odd dumplings for our Chinese new year feast. And yes, I added garlic chives to the filling. This time, my wrappers had fewer horns, tails and legs. And the fillings stayed in the wrappers. I’ve joined the adults’ table, figuratively speaking.


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Bánh mì, for you and me (2)

This was going to be a short, straightforward post about the red braised pork belly that we had in our DIY bánh mì. How we stuffed the pork belly, and Vietnamese luncheon meat (but of course) into baguettes (richly slathered with pork liver pâté and home made mayonnaise), added carrot and daikon pickles, cucumbers, sprigs of coriander and shallots, topped with dipping sauce, and munched our way to bánh mì bliss. Cue photo of pork belly on Asian-esque melamine plate. Usual food blogger stuff.

Then, I read the recipe again, and started wondering.** (If you want to skip to the recipe, it’s at the end of the post.)

** A wandering mind – this is a sign that I have been away from university for too long. My mind didn’t wander much when I was doing a part time Masters while working full time, it was too busy figuring out how little research I could get away with for that 10,000 word essay.

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Banh mi, for you and me (1)

On the weekend, I spent 2 days (and $50) making a pork roll that sells for $4.

It wasn’t just any pork roll. It was the roll with a cult following around the world – bánh mì.

An ode to bánh mì

Bánh mì is a Vietnamese culinary institution, and a culinary legacy of the French colonial era in Vietnam. It starts with a Vietnamese take on the French baguette made with rice and wheat flours, chunky pork liver pâté and creamy mayonnaise. Add handfuls of fresh herbs, crunchy pickles, and meat filling (3 types of luncheon meat, or grilled pork, or meatballs, or red braised pork). Finish with red chillies and a splash of dipping sauce or fish sauce (diagram showing bánh mì with luncheon meat below, borrowed from New York Times). The result is a hybrid of flavours that is somehow quintessentially Vietnamese, unexpectedly flavoursome, and addictive. 

NY banh mi

These baguettes are a popular lunch in the CBD, and a cluster of Vietnamese takeaway shops sell dozens and dozens of them to office workers. The people behind the counters work so quickly and deftly, their actions are like a stylised dance: cut baguettes, smear pâté and mayonnaise, layer meats, herbs, cucumber, pickles, a generous splash of savoury seasoning, and a random handful of chopped chilli – the degree of spiciness varies wildly from mild to painful.

I could go on about bánh mì for hours.

Making bánh mì, for you and for me

A leisurely Sunday lunch with friends was a chance to serve DYI bánh mì. I bought Vietnamese baguettes from a Vietnamese bakery, and made everything else from scratch: pickles (carrots, onions, daikon), pâté, mayonnaise, braised pork belly, and sweet-savoury-chilli seasoning.

This was a fun idea. Everyone built their own bánh mì. For some friends, they were revisiting an old favourite that they have eaten many times in Vietnam. For other friends, this was their first encounter with the iconic snack.

Even better, each home made component was a stand out in its own right.


The pâté was just gamey enough in taste to be interesting. It was textured (rustic?), thick, yet easy to spread and creamy to taste. It used relatively little butter, and was finished with a good splash of cognac to provide a little extra oh-la-la. Spread on thin slices of (French) baguette with a tiny smear of raspberry jam, the pate also made quick and satisfying canapes.

The mayonnaise was a delicate yellow, silky smooth, so light yet tasting like a million dollars of rich. It was utterly different from the dense, stodgy stuff we find in shops. I think it converted a couple of confirmed mayonnaise haters including Mr Gander, who (as it turns out) has never had home made mayonnaise before.


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Of allergies and flavour

On Sunday, I cooked for a dinner party. My brief for this dinner could have come from Iron Chef: one guest is gluten intolerant; another cannot digest any form of pepper, garlic and onion – that’s no onion, garlic, capsicum, shallots, chillies, spring onions, or anything from the family.

Rather than make a ‘special’ meal for these guests, I had a menu that (almost) could be shared by everyone. The flavours alternated between middle eastern and traditional American-autumnal, but most importantly there was flavour – sweet, creamy, savoury, spicy. Who needs garlic/onion/chilli/gluten anyway?



Popcorn with bacon fat, bacon, and maple syrup 
Cheeses with home-made baguette


Maple-brined pork chops with pear chutney
Roasted sweet potatoes with Greek yoghurt and pomegranate molasses
Salad with tahini dressing and crisp chickpea topping


David Lebovitz’s chocolate sorbet

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