A rare Chinese bao made with taro

May 03, 2021

A light-purple steamed snack with a shiny exterior, taro bao is a specialty of Fujian in southern China.

There are taro buns, taro cakes, and taro balls, but taro bao is a rare snack made with the beloved root vegetable.

A light-purple steamed snack with a shiny exterior, taro bao is a specialty of Fujian Province in southern China. The filling is made with steamed pork, dried bamboo shoots, firm tofu, and celery.

Wu Mingzhu, owner of Wu Zaitian Restaurant in Fujian, has been making taro bao for over 30 years. “When I was a kid, before I entered this industry, I watched my dad make it,” he says. “Afterwards, I inherited the craft from my dad.”

Freshly steamed taro bao at Wu Zaitian Restaurant in Fujian, China.
Freshly steamed taro bao at Wu Zaitian Restaurant in Fujian, China. / Photo: Shirley Xu

The family uses a local variety of taro called betel nut taro to make the bao wrapper. “The taro is more fragrant and sticky,” Wu says. “The flavor is better.”

Despite its name, betel nut taro isn’t related to the betel nut, a psychoactive berry that can give people a mild buzz. It’s called that because the taro is said to resemble a betel nut.

(Read more: All about taro: It’s delicious, versatile, and has more calories than potatoes)

The taro is crushed into a powder and then combined with sweet potato starch to form a paste. “Sweet potato starch is sticky,” Wu says. “It can bind the taro together.”

To shape the delicate skin, the taro paste is pressed into a mold with the filling inside. It’s topped with another layer of taro paste to give it shape. “It can’t be flat like a flatbread,” Wu says. “It has to maintain the shape of a bao. It has to protrude out.”

The bao is served with the customer’s choice of a spicy and sweet sauce, tomato sauce, or satay sauce with peanuts.
The bao is served with the customer’s choice of a spicy and sweet sauce, tomato sauce, or satay sauce with peanuts. / Photo: Shirley Xu

The bao is pushed out of the mold, topped with a sprinkle of dried shallots, and then steamed for 15 minutes, a relatively short time for a bao. “Because the filling is cooked already, we don’t have to oversteam it,” Wu says. “As long as the steam permeates the filling and the taro is cooked, then it’s done.”

Finally, it’s dressed with the customer’s choice of a spicy and sweet sauce, tomato sauce, or satay sauce with peanuts.

Eat China: Bao Edition

Credit

Producer: Clarissa Wei

Videographer: Shirley Xu

Editor: Hanley Chu

Narration: Tiffany Ip

Animation: Frank Lam

Mastering: Victor Peña