A snack-time favourite, it is almost impossible to resist the flaky goodness of a Siew Bao. In Malaysia, the best Siew Bao is said to come from Seremban, which is no surprise since it originated from the state, so much so that both tourists and locals would flock to street-side stalls or corner lots for a bite of the meat-filled bun.
What is Siew Bao?
Siew Bao, in essence, is an Asian equivalent of a mini meat pie. Similar to a regular steamed bao, it is filled with barbequed char siew pork pieces and oozes with gravy with every bite. The core difference is in the outer layer: where a steamed bun is soft and fluffy on the outside, while the baked bun is glossy and flaky. With buttery and crunchy crust, the bun carries a fragrant which acts as a savoury introduction to the sweet, succulent meat inside.
Siew Bao is a uniquely Malaysian dish that is of relatively recent invention. The story begins in Seremban in the 1970s when a woman was experimenting with her baos and instead of steaming them, she baked them. The golden buns that resulted became a hit in the community, with the owner eventually selling them at the family shop.
Word of mouth spread of this unique little Seremban baked pastry, that when the son took over the family business, he expanded it outside of the state. He renamed it the “Seremban Siew Bao” – siew that translates to “bake” in Cantonese – as a testament to the bun’s home ground.
Today, the family business – Mr Siew Bao, can be found all over Malaysia, at airports, shopping malls and even outlets in China as well.
As Malaysia is mostly Muslim populated, having a taste of the regular baked bun is out of the question, but that’s not to say it is entirely off-limits. To cater to our Malay friends, many stall owners have made alternatives such as using chicken filling instead of pork. Same texture, same meaty goodness!
On the other hand, for those committed to living a meatless lifestyle, a Vegetarian Siew Bao is just as delicious! Typical substitutes include using tofu, mushrooms, peas, cabbage, and carrots for a vegetable mix filling. The chewy texture of mushroom closely resembles that of meat so you won’t be missing too much of the original baked bun anyway. Plus, with the number of vegetables inside, the vegetarian version is obviously the healthier variation of the regular.
Making the baked bun is something of a skill. To strike a right balance between the soft, flaky outer layer and the juicy filling is no easy feat and often requires two or three tries for absolute beginners.
But for those of us that are gung-ho enough to give it a try, here is a recipe for you to bake your own fresh Siew Bao.
Where to Find in Malaysia
While it is impossible to drive to Seremban for delectable Siew Baos when the craving hits, it is possible to find these goodies in the city. No need for long road trips when foodpanda is only a click away!