Buns and bread

Steamed pork belly and leek buns

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Hot steamed buns were one of the most popular traditional breakfast in Southern China. Street carts loaded with juicy buns and heavenly aroma lingering in the cool morning air, in the background the dings and dangs of a thousand push-bike bells, pure and precious urban comfort. 

My recipe is as follows:

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Cantonese sweet tea buns and my friend OuYang

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I made some tea buns today.  When I was a little kid these buns were sold in little shops on nearly every street in GuangZhou. We had them mostly for breakfast. The bread was also great for a picnic lunch during school excursions.

Cantonese sweet milk bread / tea buns

Growing up, I didn’t have many close friends in the neighborhood, until I met OuYang in year 3 of primary school.

I grew up in a terrace house on a small lane way. There were always other kids around. During my early childhood years, I often wandered around and watched other kids played. I rarely joined in as most kids were older than me. At pre-school I didn’t quite connect with other kids. I was the odd one who always cried at the front door when my nails were examined for cleanness; the one who went for the old books rather than new toys; and the one that was the fastest on tricycle but never won any competitions.

In primary school, I was one of top students academically. I was ‘appointed’ as the literacy subject ‘leader’ for the class that year. The role of a ‘leader’ was to collect homework, and led the morning reading sessions at the front of the classroom, a proud job for a young girl.

One day, the teacher pulled me aside. She reassigned my literacy ‘leader’ responsibility to a new kid transferred from another school. The teacher said she was excellent in literacy, won awards for her essays, hence deserved to be the literacy ‘leader’. I was told to take on the role for English instead. I didn’t mind, I was good at both subjects. I was looking forward to meet this new kid.

Then I met OuYang, a bright girl with pony tails like ox horns (common those days). We got on straight away and we became best friends. OuYang was open, warm and highly competitive. Our next 3 years were amazing as we shared our love for literacy and appreciation for nature. At break time between classes, we leaned on the railing of the long balcony, chatted about anything and everything. When I spent time at her house, her mum was kind and gentle. It was the first time that I realized that mothers had different parenting style.

For a school excursion we went to the tallest mountains in the city, called the ‘Baiyun Mountain’  (白雲山) or the ‘White Cloud Mountain’. We found some common wild flowers with yellow blossoms. We sat down on the green grass and had our picnic lunch next to the flowers. We named the flowers ‘yellow sun’ and wrote a poem about it.  I still remember my lunch that day were 2 tea buns which I bought from the little convenience store near my house.

At white cloud mountain
A trip to the white cloud mountain, GuangZhou, in late 1970s

As I enjoyed the warm and delicious tea buns I made today, I wished I could reconnect with my long lost friend OuYang again.

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Garlic chive pockets 韭菜餅, and memories of a TV set made of a heart rate monitor

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Garlic chive pockets 韭菜餅

When I was a little girl, I was fascinated by my cousin Yang’s skills in making dumpling wrappers.

Yang was the eldest daughter of my 2nd aunt. My aunt joined the army and met her husband in Northern China. They settled there for over 10 years before moving back to GuangZhou and re-trained as experts for mending medical equipment. My aunt made our first TV set out of an abandoned heart-rate monitor. It was the only TV set in the neighborhood. I still remember watching a green and grey version of the ‘Sound of the Music’ on the 3-inch diameter screen. It didn’t have a protective case in the back – we could see all the wires and connections. My grandfather put all his newspapers next to it. One time,  grandfather asked me to fetch him an old paper. I climbed up the drawers under the TV and reached for the paper.  I felt someone hit me with a stick from behind. I turned and looked, my grandfather was sitting at his desk working on something, and there was no one else in the room. I was zapped by electricity from the TV set!

Cousins from GuangZhou
A rare photo of the cousins in early 70s. Clockwise from top left, Yong, Zhi, Yang, Jie, myself

Anyway, Yang was a true master of the rolling pin from a young age – she could make hundreds of wrappers in no time at all. Her fingers were magic and I used to watch her whenever I had the opportunity. Their apartment always smelt of noodles, dumplings and aged vinegar… yum!

Being a ‘southerner’, my rolling pin skills are lacking – I am just too slow. To get around my deficiency, I discovered that my Italian pasta machine can produce wheat based wrappers rather efficiently. The trick is to first roll a small amount of dough into a ball, then press it to a round disc, and put it through the pasta machine a few times rotating each time. To show off my newly developed ‘skills’, I made these northern style garlic chive pancakes with eggs, Chinese mushrooms  and shrimp shell.  The traditional pancake uses heaps of garlic chive and has as a very strong taste. In this recipe, I used smaller amount of garlic chive and added chicken and mung bean vermicelli for extra texture and flavor.

Recipe is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »

Home made steamed buns ‘man tou’ (馒头)

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This is a heart warming plain steamed bun that is soft and fluffy when served warm or at room temperature. Great for sandwiching spicy twice cooked pork, or any meaty dishes with strong flavors.

Home made steamed buns 'man tou' (馒头)

Recipe is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »

Chinese buns with spicy lamb

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Making Chinese buns is so very easy, simply pick up a good quality pack of bun flour & follow the instruction on the pack, and add a bit of baking power.  There are a few popular type of buns – plain ‘man tou’ (馒头), ‘bao zi’ (包子) which is a bun with meat or vegetable in the center, twisted bun Huajuan (花卷), and in the north, ‘Rou jia mo’ (肉夹馍) which is a meat sandwich.

Here is a meat-bun sandwich I made today, filled with lamb stir fried with Sichuan soy bean chili paste.

Chinese buns with spicy lamb

Recipe is as follow: Read the rest of this entry »

Flaky shallot pancake (蔥油餅)

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I was chatting with Li, another school mum about a forthcoming international food festival at school.  I mentioned that I’d make some shallot cake, a traditional snack from Northern China.  There were twinkles in Li’s eyes. “For one of my birthdays,” Li said, “my mother made three pieces of those really tasty flaky shallot pancakes. I asked why there were only three pieces.  To make these pancakes for my birthday, mum used up every drop of cooking oil in the house. Those days, cooking oil was rationed in China.”

Yes, I remember ‘those days’.

An 250 gram cooking oil coupon
A 250 gram cooking oil coupon

That afternoon, I made my family a batch of shallot pancakes – flaky, oily, chewy and incredibly comforting!

Flaky shallot pancake (蔥油餅)

Recipe is as follows: Read the rest of this entry »