Nom pao, or bao, are small brioches that are stuffed with a tasty preparation, usually made with meat and then steamed. They are real icons of Cambodian and more widely Asian street food.
Nom pao are also made at home for New Year’s Eve or big family celebrations. The time it takes to make them does not allow to prepare a small amount so you might as well prepare a feast for your family and friends.
Students consume them while studying for their exams because they are fast to eat and very nutritious, especially when they contain eggs in addition to meat and mushrooms, which brings a significant amount of protein. In Phnom Penh, capital of Cambodia, you cannot walk for more than 2 minutes without stumbling upon a stall selling those hot buns and the choice of toppings is usually quite extensive.
You can find nom pao in all major cities around the world. Outside of Asia, they are usually sold individually and make an excellent to go meal. You can’t resist the appeal of these delicious white buns. They perfectly embody the idea of comfort food. Warm, soft and with a delicious aroma. Preparing them at home requires some time and dexterity to fill and fold them but preparing Cambodian nom pao yourself is a source of immense satisfaction. The delicious flavors that emerge from the stuffing and the kneading of the dough make its preparation very pleasant.
Nom pao are probably of Chinese origin where they are called baozi. They became popular very quickly in the south of the region under different names derived from the word bao which means “to wrap”. If the full name sometimes differs, the presence of the word bao nonetheless remains and it reminds us of the origin of these buns that have largely been revisited by prominent chefs around the world.
In general, these delicacies are prepared with wheat flour, yeast and water but the ingredients can change slightly depending on the regions and countries. Some add milk or lemon juice to whiten the dough. Each family has its own tips for making buns that are whiter than the neighbor’s. The stuffing can also be more or less spicy and sometimes even sweet. In any case, once the dough has risen, it will be stuffed and steamed. The unstuffed version of this bun is called mantou. Salted fillings are usually made from pork and vegetables.
The idea of filling a dough with a stuffing gained traction around the world and simultaneously. Even though they lived far apart, Mesopotamians, Etruscans and Chinese thought about doing the same thing without having met before. This is a complete meal, that is easily transportable and consumable.
The tastier the stuffing, the softer the dough, and the pleasure will be great. These delicacies are even more enjoyable to make with the family when everyone has the responsibility of a specific task in the process. The nom pao will therefore be the fruit of a common work of which all will feast with enthusiasm. The version featured here is with ground pork, Chinese sausages and hard quail eggs. The dried mushrooms and the fish sauce, as well as the sesame oil, deliciously perfume the filling.
Nom pao are delicious little buns stuffed with a filling that is usually composed of meat, before being steamed. They are popular in Cambodia, as well as in the rest of Southeast Asia under different names.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- ⅓ cup sugar
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup milk (warm, at 75 F / 36˚C)
- 4 tablespoons vegetable oil
- ½ lb ground pork (e.g. loin)
- 14 hard-boiled quail eggs
- 2 Chinese sausages (Lap Cheong, lạp xưởng), thinly sliced
- 8 large dried shiitakes ,rehydrated
- 2 scallions , finely chopped
- 2 cloves garlic , finely chopped
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- ¼ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 3 stalks Chinese chive , finely chopped
In the bowl of a stand mixer, mix the warm milk and yeast, 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 tablespoon flour (taken from the total amount of sugar and flour). Mix well until the yeast dissolves completely, then allow the mixture to stand for 30 minutes until a foam forms on the surface.
Then add the rest of the flour, the rest of the sugar, and using the dough hook, knead for 10 minutes until obtaining a homogeneous dough, that is flexible and non-sticky.
- Add a little flour if the dough is too sticky, or add a little warm milk if the dough is too dry.
- Cover the dough with a cloth and let it rise for 1h30, at room temperature, away from drafts.
- While the dough is resting, prepare the filling.
- Cut the mushrooms very finely. Set aside
- Mix ground pork with mushrooms, chives, onions, garlic, fish sauce, sugar, sesame oil, and white pepper. Mix well and let cool for 15 minutes.
- Form 14 stuffing balls by inserting 1 hard-boiled quail egg in the center of the dumpling.
- Place vegetable oil in a small bowl.
Cut out 14 squares of 5 x 6 inches (12x15cm) of parchment paper.
On a lightly floured work surface, degas the dough, and knead lightly. It must remain flexible and elastic. You should be able to stretch it slightly without tearing.
- Cut the dough into 14 equal pieces.
Using a rolling pin, roll out the dough to form a ⅙-inch (3mm) thick disc.
- Thin out the edges of the disc to make it easier to fold and thus get the center of the disc thicker to solidify the center of the bun and accommodate the stuffing.
- Place a ball of filling and 3 slices of sausage in the center of a dough disc.
- Close the bun by wrapping the stuffing. To close the cake by bringing the edges up. Pinch the dough and turn the top of the bun to close tightly.
- Dip the bottom of the bun into the bowl containing the vegetable oil, then place it on a piece of parchment paper.
- Do the same with the rest of the discs of dough, stuffing balls and sausage slices.
- Steam the nom pao for 15 to 20 minutes after reaching boiling, in a steamer basket, covered.
- At the end of steaming, let the nom pao rest for 10 minutes before taking them out.
- Serve them warm or lukewarm.