Guabao has been variably called a Taiwanese hamburger, a Taiwanese sandwich, and a Taiwanese gyro (by at least one person we know).
Fatty slices of tender braised pork are sandwiched in a wheat bun shaped like a taco—and then garnished with garlic-crusted chunks of pickled mustard greens, cilantro, and a sprinkle of peanut dust.
Originally from Fuzhou, guabao is now commonly associated with Taiwan, where it is heavily consumed during the year-end Weiya Festival, which honors the god of wealth.
“It looks like a wallet,” says Ivy Chen, a cooking teacher in Taipei. “We put meat inside, and the peanuts are a golden color. It resembles money. This has symbolic meaning.”
The idea is to wish for good fortune for the coming year, which is why the Weiya Festival is particularly popular among business owners. Guabao is a part of those festivities.
The dish is one of the few Taiwanese specialties that have jumped from the island into the American consciousness, thanks to establishments like Baohaus and Momofuku. Guabao is now known worldwide, with shops in New York, London, and even Seoul.
But it’s also possible to make it at home, and Chen, who teaches private cooking classes in Taipei, offered us her recipe for the perfect guabao.
For the buns
- 2 cups (300g) all-purpose flour, sifted
- 1/2 tablespoon dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- Pinch of salt
- 2/3 cup (150ml) lukewarm water
- 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
For the braised pork belly
- 1 pound (600g) pork belly, sliced into 1/2 inch pieces
- 1/3 cup soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons rice wine
- 1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
- 30 g unsalted butter
- 3 cups water
- 2 pieces star anise or dried orange skin
- 1 stick of cinnamon
For the garnish
- 1 stalk of pickled mustard plant, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 2 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
- 2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 tablespoon sugar
- 1 whole chili, chopped
- 1 1/2 cups crushed peanuts with sugar
- 2 stalks cilantro, chopped
- Soak dry yeast in lukewarm water for 10 minutes. Mix sugar, salt, and flour together, and make a dent in the center.
- Add the yeast and water mixture, plus oil, into the dent. Fold the flour into the liquid mixture and knead the dough until smooth. Cover with a damp cloth and allow it to rise to double its size. (This will take anywhere from 40 minutes to two hours, depending on the temperature.)
- Blanch the pork belly in enough boiling water to cover for five minutes. Remove and wash with cold water. This gets rid of debris and extra blood.
- Put the pork in a large pot, and add 1/3 cup soy sauce, rice wine, sugar, 3 cups water, star anise (or dried orange skin), and cinnamon. Turn to high heat. The water should cover the pork. If not, simply add more water. Once the mixture boils, turn the heat down to low and simmer for 40 minutes.
- In a wok, heat two tablespoons of oil and sauté with garlic. Add pickled mustard plant, soy sauce, and sugar. A little water can be sprinkled on top if this is too dry. Stir-fry for 8 to 10 minutes over medium-low heat, adding in the chili at the end. Set aside.
- After the dough is ready, divide into eight pieces. Knead and shape them into smooth balls, and then roll them out into long ovals. Brush oil on them and fold in half. Place them on a steamer basket.
- In a steamer pot, preheat water to about 95°F and then turn the heat off. Place the steamer basket over the pot and let the buns rise for 30 to 40 minutes.
- After they’ve risen, bring the water to a boil. When steam starts coming out of the basket, bring the heat down to medium-high and steam the buns for 12 minutes.
- Turn off the heat and don’t open the steamer basket for another 5 to 6 minutes. (Cool air will depress and shrink the buns.) Lift the lid slowly so the buns don’t shrink.
- Stuff pork, pickled mustard greens mixture, peanut powder, and cilantro in the bun. Serve.