Philippine culture is a mixture of all the external influences that have seeped in throughout its centuries of history. One major cultural influence stemmed from our exposure to Chinese traders. And like most countries in the world, the Philippines is called home by many Chinese people who have migrated from the mainland. The most obvious testament to this is the formation of Chinatown in Manila.
Of course, my favorite aspect of cultural influence is food. Chinese food and its influence is everywhere. It’s in Chinatown, in the business districts, even on the street in food stalls. It’s even in the words we use for our kitchen utensils (e.g., siyansi, a long, spoon-like metal spatula).
Probably my most favorite type of Chinese food is the dim sum, specifically siu mai and siu bao (siomai and siopao for Filipinos). I remember back when I was a kid, my father would sometimes buy us some siopao from a restaurant he passed on his way to and from work. It has always been my favorite treat. Even now, my love affair with the siopao is going strong, along with my other dim sum mistress, the siomai.
Like I mentioned in an earlier post, I am currently in a state of bread frenzy. So I took this opportunity to make some siopao. Traditional siopao is made from pork, but I decided to go with chicken on this one. The filling is also not too complicated. Making my own definitely takes a lot more time compared to just buying one from a restaurant or canteen, but I think that anything worth eating is worth learning how to make from scratch.
- 1-1/2 cups warm water
- 1-1/2 Tbsp instant dry yeast
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 1/2 cup white sugar
- 3-1/2 to 4 cups flour
- 400 grams of chicken thigh (or breast) fillet
- 3 Tbsp soy sauce
- 1 Tbsp white vinegar
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 1 star anise
- 1/3 cup brown sugar
- 1 cup water
Make the filling first. In a medium sauce pan, combine all the ingredients and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer, turning the pieces of chicken occasionally. Keep simmering until the liquid reduces by more than half into a thick, sticky sauce. Take it off the heat and remove the star anise. Drain the sauce away but set it aside. Flake the chicken using a fork, then set aside as well.
In a large bowl, whisk together all the ingredients for the buns except for the flour. Add the flour and combine everything until you get a coarse, sticky dough.
On a cool, clean surface, knead the dough using the Bertinet method for 10 minutes, or until the dough becomes smooth and elastic. Ball the dough and lightly flour it to prevent sticking. Let the dough rest in a lightly floured bowl for 30 minutes, or until it doubles in size.
Punch the dough down gently to get rid of the large gas bubbles. Divide the dough equally into 10 pieces (use a kitchen scale if you have one), then shape into balls. On a lightly floured surface, flatten a dough ball until it is about 4 inches in diameter. In the center of the dough disk, place a heaping spoonful of the chicken filling. Gently bring the sides of the dough over the filling, pinching them together to seal in the chicken. Place the filled bun pinched-side down on a 3″ square piece of parchment paper. Repeat the process for the remaining dough.
Let the filled buns rest for 15 minutes, or until they rise to double their original sizes. Fill the bottom pan of a steamer with 1 inch of water. Bring the water to a boil, then lower the heat to a low simmer. On the steamer pan itself, place the buns with an inch gap between to allow for further rising, and steam the buns covered for 30 minutes. If the steamer can’t fit all the buns at once, refrigerate the remaining buns until they can be steamed.
Serve the buns warm with the sauce from the filling.
When I made this last night, I decided to reduce the sauce until it wasn’t runny anymore, and put it in the bun with the chicken. That meant that I had no sweet sauce for the buns. So I just used a bit of hoisin sauce, though it was a bit sour for my taste. The bun itself was mildly sweet, soft and moist, while the chicken filling was tender and sweet, just the way I like it. I’d say that all in all, this was a great kitchen experience for me.