Red Bean Buns

Pink, lotus seed filled buns

So, of course I am ecstatic that Yen Ching opened up a bakery today (305 N. 9th St, Boise) because when I moved to Boise I looked all over for this awesome dim sum pastry (click here for a list of many types of dim sum): sweet red bean buns. Their texture is light, fluffy and a bit chewy. The center is thick and sweet.

In Portland and Berkeley I would find them in confection cases, or the pork ones inside little metal ovens, for a dollar or less. I craved the texture of these pastries which are called baozi or bao. I can still remember the sweet joy of a post-work bean bun from Anzen on MLK Blvd. in Portland, Or. I would bike up to the cozy wooden shop, surrounded by industrial buildings, drenched in rain, and reach for the orange light of the warmer and pull out some buns. I’d also often buy produce and chopsticks and tea, of course too, and I miss Anzen for their strong variety of highly usable household goods. I think they often get eclipsed by the ginormous Uwajimaya, though.

Bao are perfect and smooth, bread-like buns that you steam like you would steam a vegetable, but are bread like and made with yeast with some kind of middle filling. They are best made with a traditional bamboo wooden steamer.

So, of course before I could find them in Boise, I made them myself, and I was shocked at how easy they were to recreate, and thankful too because I missed them. This recipe is similar to the one that I would use to make them again, although I would add black sesame seeds to the top of each bun (a light sprinkle) before steaming them:

I had been noticing lately at Asia Market and Orient Market these beautiful little displays with wicker baskets with clearly labeled Chinese pastries, although my favorites were always gone by the time I arrived. Yen Ching had been making these pastries for these two markets for quite a while, and I hoped to keep it my little secret. Yen Ching was also making for them some of the dim sum favorites like the coconut and lime layered jelly dish, yum cha.

Another type of dim sum I miss is the rice flour, fried,  red bean paste version that is fried, zin dou.

Zin Dou

At Orient Market when you first walk in there is a glass deli case to the right. There were many buns in there also – always delicious and fresh. Last week because of Yen Ching’s new bakery, though, they had a wide variety on a giant table next to the sliding glass doors.

But back to the buns, my favorite fillings are the red bean (azuki bean, which is also in mooncakes, if you have ever had those as they are prevalent in the Asian markets around town), lotus paste, and the sesame one.

Azuki red bean paste also appears in another one of my favorites, mochi, which I could readily find at all the Asian markets (mostly because they ship well, but the bean buns need to be made in the same city of origin, not shipped). More on azuki beans: their medicinal values include cancer prevention, they lower blood pressure, and have a great deal of fiber and nutrients. In Korea, Japan and China they are often made sweet to be made into mochi and these bean buns.

Sunjingbao shop in Taipei, street vendor, by Jim Epler

In Japan there is even a Pepsi Azuki!

So even though the Idaho Statesman called them “red bean bread” I am happy that I can bike around downtown and have a nice dim sum treat when I want to. Yen Ching opened up their bakery (305 N. 9th Street, Boise) today, so now you don’t even have to learn how to make them (like I did).

I assure you, though, that the creation at home is worth it. You’ll be shocked that the dough actually works out and becomes that mesmerizing, airy bread, like I was.

Korea-Hwangnam bun factory

Keep in mind, though, that these kinds of buns are not just Chinese, but are popular in Korea as well, and the non-yeast varieties are popular in Japan.

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