Gua Bao 割包 (Taiwanese Braised Pork Belly Buns)
Author & Photographer: Rebecca Chen
Gua bao (割包), or braised pork belly buns, are a well-loved and quintessential Taiwanese street food and snack. They're also sometimes known as "tiger bites pig" (虎咬豬), because with a bit of imagination, the bun looks like a tiger chomping on a big piece of pork belly. Though you might see some variations at your local Asian fusion restaurant, the real-deal traditional gua bao consists of five components: a fluffy, steamed bun filled with tender, braised pork belly, topped with pickled mustard greens, fresh cilantro, and sweet peanut powder. This dish is popular for good reason, and every component is essential-- the pork belly is salty and savory, the peanut powder adds a bit of sweetness, the pickled mustard greens lend some much needed acidity and crunch, the cilantro is bright and herby, and they're all held together by a beautifully soft bun.
Servings: 4 gua bao, serves 2-4
Active Time: 1 - 1 ½ hr
Total Time: 2 ½ hr
1 lb pork belly
1 tbsp neutral oil (such as canola or vegetable oil)
2 tbsp rock sugar (or 2 tbsp brown or raw sugar)
1 star anise clove
½ tsp five spice powder
4 cloves garlic, smashed
2 (⅛ inch) slices fresh ginger
3 scallions, cut into 3 inch pieces
¼ cup Shaoxing wine (or ¼ cup rice wine)
¼ Chinese light soy sauce
¼ Chinese dark soy sauce
4 cups water
Buns, makes 8* (or use store-bought**):
¾ cup warm water
1 tsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp granulated sugar
¼ tsp salt
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp plus 1 tbsp neutral oil
¼ cup roasted, unsalted peanuts
1 ½ tsp granulated sugar
1 tsp neutral oil
¼ cup pickled mustard greens, chopped***
¼ cup cilantro, coarsely chopped
Cut pork belly into ¼ inch thick and 2 inch long pieces (about 8 pieces total). Place pork belly in a pot and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and cook for 2 additional minutes. Transfer pork to a paper towel-lined plate and pat dry.
Heat the oil in dutch oven or wok over medium-high heat. Sear pork belly pieces in a single layer on both sides until golden, about 2 minutes each. Set aside pork on a fresh paper towel lined plate.
3. Reduce heat to medium and add garlic, ginger, star anise, and scallions. Stir and cook until you can smell the ginger and garlic, then add sugar. Once the sugar is mostly liquified, add Shaoxing wine. Continue to stir, scraping bottom of pot, until no sugar clumps remain. Add five spice, light and dark soy sauce and water, and bring to a boil.
4. Transfer pork belly back to pot, cover with lid, and reduce heat to low. Continue to simmer pork on low heat until fork tender, about 2 hours, flipping pork belly occasionally. (Remember to save your braising liquid for stewed eggs, rice, or sauces!)
In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water, and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes or until yeast is activated and foamy. Add 1 tbsp oil and stir to combine.
Stir together salt and flour in large mixing bowl. Create well in the center of flour mixture and pour in wet ingredients. Mix until well combined and flour is fully incorporated. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface. At this point, the dough will be rough and sticky. Knead until the dough is smooth and soft, about 10 minutes.
3. Transfer dough ball into lightly oiled clean bowl. Brush top of dough with oil, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and set aside to proof until about 1.5 or 2 times the size, about 1 hour. Be careful not to overproof.
4. Turn out dough onto lightly floured surface and push down dough, kneading for a minute to remove air bubbles. Divide dough into 8 pieces. Roll each piece into oval shape, roughly 4 by 7 inches, then brush tops lightly with oil. For each bun, lay square of parchment paper onto half of oval and fold other half over the parchment paper. Place buns onto squares of parchment paper. Transfer buns to bamboo or multi-level metal steamer, and let sit covered 20 minutes for a second proofing.
5. Set up steamer over cold water and turn burner to medium. Once you see steam, steam for an additional 10 minutes. Turn burner off and let buns sit in steamer, covered, for another 5 minutes. This prevents the buns from sagging.
Toppings and Assembly:
To make the peanut powder, combine peanuts and sugar in a food processor or blender and blitz until no large pieces remain.
For the mustard greens, heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Stir fry the chopped mustard greens for 2 minutes or until completely dry.
3. To assemble, place 1-2 pieces of pork belly inside a bun. Spread about a tablespoon of mustard greens over the pork, along with a few sprigs of cilantro and a generous sprinkling of peanut powder.
4. Serve immediately and enjoy!
* The recipe makes 8 buns, and the pork will fill about 4 of them. You can freeze the rest for later by waiting until the buns cool completely, then storing in a freezer bag. To reheat from frozen, just steam the buns for 5 minutes.
** You can find these open buns, called lotus leaf buns (荷葉包), at most Asian grocery stores in the freezer section. Follow the package instructions for preparation.
*** You can also find these at most Asian grocery stores. It may also be labeled "sour mustard" or 酸菜. Before chopping, rinse the mustard greens thoroughly under water.