I grew up in New Jersey and I’ve always loved finding a hidden gem of a restaurant somewhere unexpected. When we were kids, we spent weekends with my dad and he often took me, my brother, and sister to this great Dim Sum restaurant in a strip mall near our house. Dim Sum is sort of like Chinese tapas: lots of little bites and small dishes meant to share. This strip mall was an unlikely locale for fabulous Chinese fare, but it was packed on Sunday afternoons with families who had just left church, and I thought the little carts full of tiny metal steamer baskets stuffed with treats were exciting and delicious.
I went crazy for the shu mai dumplings, and found the unique desserts like jien duy (sesame rice balls with red bean paste) irresistable, but my favorite have always been the steamed pork buns (char siu bao). Pillowy little clouds of steamed bread stuffed with savory and sweet roasted pork. They are perfection.
This week I was feeling nostalgic for my long-lost favorite and decided to give a gluten-free version of bao a go. I’m really, really proud of the results. The snowy-white dough is a dream to work with, nothing like the sticky GF doughs you may be used to, and the end result is a texture and taste so distinctly bao, I was practically doing cartwheels in my kitchen.
My girlfriend is a vegetarian, so at home we cook almost exclusively meat free and gluten-free to accomodate her diet and mine. This version has a meatless filling for that reason, made instead with shiitake mushrooms and tofu, but for a more authentic version feel free to bring on the pork.