Friday 2 January 2015

Crossing Boundaries: My take on Siopao Asado

For those of you not familiar with it, siopao asado is a delicious Filipino  dish, simple as that.  This soft steamed bun is stuffed with mouthwatering pork which is coarsely chopped and cooked until tender and still slightly chewy. Does this sound at all familiar? A tad like Char Su Bao and a variety of other sweet and savoury buns that dot Asian cuisine perhaps? Siopao asado finds its roots, despite its semi-Spanish name, in the convenient handheld meals which have long travelled alongside Chinese merchants and colonizers. The veneer of Europeanism which is lacquered onto the name situates these buns at the crossroads of Chinese and Spanish cultures in the rich melting pot of the Philippines.

 I chose the title “Crossing Boundaries” for a variety of reasons. While siopao asado is definitely an example of crossed boundaries, my take on the recipe has changed it even further, putting a Korean spin on it by using gochujang and integrating cabbage and onion to add my own little twist, as well as some veg. A lot of these age old dishes exist in many a permutation and adding my own touch to it I just throws another layer onto an endlessly adaptable dish. Feel free to play with the filling and change it to match your tastes, it’s truly the nature of the beast to do so!

The title of the post is also relevant for me in another way. This recipe was given to me by my fellow food scholar Adrian whom I've had the privilege to work, laugh and procrastinate with this semester. His knowledge of siopao’s historical roots are far more academic than this little blurb was ever meant to be and I guess what I mean to say is that I've officially caved, I have to acknowledge it; resistance is futile, my entire life is coloured by academia...oh well!


For the dough I used the original recipe from with the minor modification that I cut the sugar by half a cup and boosted the rising times (often doubling them)

-1kg of pork and vegetables. While the original recipe calls for only pork, I used about half pork, half cabbage, onion and green bean. For all of the vegetarians and vegans you can also use vegetables entirely, patted dry tofu would probably be a good addition!
-1/2 head garlic, crushed-2 medium size onion, minced1/4 c. soy sauce1/4 c. sugar1/4c.  Gochujang3 Tbsp Rice vinegar
2 Tbsp cornstarch

Mix the dough and knead about eight minutes until smooth and elastic. Set aside to rise for an hour or so.

Prep meat and vegetables, crushing the garlic and chopping vegetables and pork into bite-sized pieces. Remember, this is a hand food, you don't want huge strands of pork of cabbage plopping out if you're eating on the run.

Heat some oil in a deep pan or pot, brown the pork and onions at medium heat.

Add garlic, cook until fragrant. 

Deglaze with the vinegar and soy sauce, add the gochujang and sugar

For pork buns: Simmer on low heat for as long as possible (minimum 45minutes) this slow cooking makes for a more tender filling and lets the flavours develop. Should it start to stick you can add broth or other seasoning to taste (sugar, soy, vinegar to taste)

A few minutes before you finish cooking, add the cabbage and other vegetables cook until desired though do remember that they will steam for 10 minutes and you don't want to overcook them. 5 to 10 minutes in the sauce will suffice to let the flavours mingle. 

For the vegetarian option: Cook the vegetables in the sauce for 5 to 10 minutes then feel free to let the mixture sit at room temperature while the buns rise to absorb flavour.

Should the mix need thickening dissolve the cornstarch into water and add to the mix, heat for 5 minutes or so until thick

Once the dough has risen, flatten it

Cut the dough into equal wedges

Roll into balls

Let proof under a damp cloth

Once the dough is done proofing, flatten the balls

Fill dough with a scoop of filling and carefully fold the edges of the dough together by pinching it closed

Continue pinching the dough, combining each pinch with the last one to make folds

Once there is just a lip left

 fold it into the other pinched segments in one fell swoop

Grab all of the dough at the top and twist to seal, this will also provide the pleats that are an iconic feature to these buns

Steam the buns in a bamboo steamer or double boiler, on lettuce or wax paper. If you're slumming it like me and lack not only a steamer but also wax paper, feel free to use a colander over a pot of boilling water with a lid. Though you'll want to grease the steal to prevent the buns from sticking.

Steam for 8-10 minutes until dough is firm, remove buns from steamer (or umm... colander) and let rest, being careful not to burn yourself.

Enjoy on the run

Or alongside a nice cup of green tea!

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