November is about to wrap up….just in time for another Ethnic Exploration. For the first time, we highlight a market outside of our LA home-base. A few weeks ago, we were at the 2nd Annual Foodbuzz Blogger Festival in San Francisco. Since we would be there all weekend, we thought it would be fun to see what ethnic markets were popping off in the bay. San Francisco’s expansive Chinatown immediately came to mind. It’s vast, authentic, and a necessary stop during any trip to the city. We found a couple of promising options from the web and settled on Ming Lee market. With list in hand, we headed out on our journey during a break at the weekend’s conference.
We narrowed in on making bao buns this month. Eating dim sum is one of our favorite things to do, especially in San Francisco where superb and inexpensive eateries are all around the city. Last year, we were introduced to Yank Sing by our friend Candice of Pork Chops & Chicken where we actually spent a small fortune on too much good food. If you’ve had a full dim sum experience, it’s a good chance you’ve eaten this moist, soft, slightly sweet and chewy steamed dumpling. Usually served and steamed in a bamboo basket, the bao—or baozi—is made of a yeast dough and generally stuffed with pork, sausage, chicken, eggs, or sweetened red beans, depending on the variety. We were initially unsure what type of bao to make, so we thought we’d ask a few of the folks at the market to solicit their opinion.
Being the kind of folks we are, we managed to drag two friends along with us on the trek through Chinatown. Michael of South Bay Foodies and Kashia of Fro and a Fork came along for the uphill walk that not only had our hearts beating quickly but also had our eyes roving the shops and markets along the way. We passed exotic produce and dry goods literally flowing into the streets from each store front. Chinese characters covered every visual sign, and several of the vendors we encountered spoke little English. We were no longer in Kansas anymore. It was going to be interesting to navigate the store for products we were unfamiliar with or possibly could not get information about, but that’s what makes these trips fun too.
We entered Ming Lee from a small entrance along the street that leads you down a winding flight of stairs to the bottom level of the store. At first glance, Ming Lee appears to be a quaint establishment with a few aisles in front of a couple cash registers. The aisles in the front section were lined with a variety of Asian dry goods, noodles, packaged meals, treats and snacks. Just when you think you’ve seen it all, however, an even bigger section reveals itself around a corner with twice as many shelves.
There wasn’t a fresh produce or meat counter in the store, but imported teas, sauces, and spices overflowed with abundance. We found a new line of stairs in the center of the store and ventured up. The upper level was a fraction of the size of the bottom portion, but was covered with just as many varied specialties. Asian candies, dried spices and dried exotic fruits filled the whole main wall on this floor. Plus, large bins in the middle of the store displayed even more goods to be purchased.
We asked the clerk behind the register if she had any thoughts on our dish. She only uttered a few words, then lead us back downstairs to an aisle of mainly canned goods. She picked up a can of sweetened red beans and handed it to us. She then shuffled to the end of the aisle and grabbed a package of bao flour. She gestured to the instructions on the back written in English and smiled enthusiastically. Her zeal sealed the deal. We didn’t want to travel back to LA with too many items in tow, so these two items were perfect for our needs and our carry-on bags. The only other necessity on our list was a bamboo steam basket, which we found for sale in another shop nearby. For less than $10, we had everything we set out to get. The rest would continue back home.
Ming Ling Trading Inc.
759 Jackson St
(between Duncombe Aly & Pontiac St)
San Francisco, CA 94133
Weeks later, we made the bao without fuss. We simply followed the directions on the bao flour package, which offered a simple recipe. Naturally, we played with the recipe, tweaking it here and there, not only to our tastes but also what supplies were on hand. The directions on the bag indicated to knead the dough for 30 minutes! That clearly seemed excessive to us. We were about to skimp out on this process, but flashbacks of our Ethiopian injera mishap lead to strict direction following–something we don’t always do. We kneaded the dough per the directions, then let it rest for another 30 minutes. Once it was ready, we made little buns with a mixture of red beans and pork. There was enough leftover red beans to fill a few dumplings just with that.
Closing the buns in the traditional pleated design is actually, for once, much easier than it seems. There was a great photo slide show of this process on Steamy Kitchen. We strongly suggest rolling out the dough on parchment paper. The dough is super sticky, so reserve some bao flour (or a bit of all purpose flour) from the bag and sprinkle liberally, even on the parchment. However you seal your bun, there should be a small point at the top. This makes it easy to pinch with your fingers and transport the dumpling around the kitchen.
There are several easy, made-from-scratch bao recipes out there. You can also cheat and use your favorite pizza or biscuit dough for the bao. The finished bao freezes well like most dumplings. If you make extras or don’t want to eat them right away, just pop ‘em in the freezer-safe container or bag. Serve with your favorite sauce, or eat them straight out of the bamboo basket. The next time you go out for dim sum, you’ll get some new ideas of bao to make at home.
Pork and Red Bean Bao – 1 dozen bao
2 pork sausages, casings removed
3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and sliced
1/4 cup green onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1/4 cup green peas, fresh or thawed
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1/2 teaspoon sesame oil
Dash of sugar
Salt and pepper, to taste
1/4 cup sweetened red bean paste
16 ounces bao flour
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons vinegar
Cabbage or kale leaves
1. Heat oil in a large, flat pan over medium-heat. Add sausage and cook until begins to brown. Mix in eggs, onion, garlic, ginger, peas, soy sauce, sugar and spices. Cook for an additional 2 minutes or until fully browned. Add in 1/4 cup of the red bean paste and remove from heat. Set aside and let cool completely.
2. Make dough according to bao flour instructions. (The package we used incorporated additional sugar, milk and oil. Reserve 1/4 cup of the package flour for dusting when rolling out the dough.
3. When dough is ready, separate into four even parts, and then divide each of those parts into thirds to make a dozen even chunks. One at a time, roll each chunk on parchment paper with extra flour. Fill with about 1 or 2 tablespoons of filling. Carefully pleat the dough around the filling to close. Set aside finished bao on another sheet of parchment until ready to cook.
4. Bring water in steamer to a boil. Add vinegar to the water to make finished buns whiter in color. Steam cabbage or kale leaves over the boiling water for a couple minutes to soften the leaves. Add bao and steam covered for 16 minutes, being careful not to overfill the container with buns. Remove lid and wipe away any water droplets that may have formed from the condensation. Replace lid and steam for an additional 4 minutes. Serve immediately.
Click HERE for the printable recipe.