There is a story behind the origin of baozi and mantou. During the Three Kingdoms Period (三國時代), a Chinese scholar and military strategist called Zhuge Liang (諸葛亮 or 諸葛孔明) finished a battle and was preparing to go back to the country of Shu when the weather suddenly changed. This stopped them from passing down the river and the soldiers started to perish.
Meng Huo, the leader of Nanzhong, told Zhuge Lian there are too many soldiers losing their lives in the river and everyone is both angry and sad because it looks like they can never go home. So they decided the only solution is to sacrifice 49 human heads and throw them in the river to offer peace with the spirits of the already dead soldiers.
Zhuge Liang was shocked by the idea of sacrificing 49 innocent lives, so he came up with the idea of mixing different kinds of meats to make fillings and covering the meat filling with dough to make them into a shape that looked like a human’s head. They then steamed the buns to make the shape solid and started throwing these buns into the river. Mysteriously, the river turned peaceful again so they were able to cross the river and go home.
There are different kinds of fillings inside of Baozi, made with different kinds of meat and poultry. You can also make them vegetarian or even fill them with a sweet bean filling to make them into a nice dessert.
On the other hand, mantou usually doesn’t have any fillings inside, but they can be made into different flavors as well. You can use mantou like regular bread; slice them in the middle, place a fried egg, bacon, or ham, or you can even treat it like a Chinese hamburger or sandwich. Mantou are very popular in Taiwan for breakfast.
Below are some recipes from a forever expanding list of Mantou and Baozi / Chinese bread and buns.
- Basic Chinese Yeast Dough: This is a simple Chinese steamed dough recipe. When preparing a specific recipe such as Flower Rolls, the instructions will call for adding baking powder to the dough to give it extra life.
- Steamed Bun Dough: This is a basic recipe for making the steamed bun dough used in Char Siu Bao.
- Char Siu Bao-Chinese Steamed BBQ Pork Bun: This is a simple recipe for making delicious Char Siu Bao.
- Cocktail Buns: Cocktail buns, also known as coconut buns, have a sweet butter coconut filling.