These Chinese pork belly bao buns are inspired by Vietnamese flavors (the ones you would find in a bánh mì) with a fresh sweet daikon radish and carrot pickle (Đồ Chua), a little kick of spice with jalapeños, and a bright note with fresh cilantro. Finished with a spicy sriracha mayo, these bao buns are unbelievably quick and easy to make.
These ‘open bao buns’ are a traditional Chinese bread-like bun made from flour, yeast, baking powder, sugar, milk, and oil. Steamed until cooked through, they are fluffy and light in texture, and slightly sweet. Not to be confused with the closed bao, this sandwich-like bun can be stuffed with a variety of different ingredients, the most common being pork belly.
When you search pork belly bao chances are you came across a decent number of recipes with a thick slab of pork belly. Don’t get me wrong these recipes look amazing, but thick cut pork belly needs a lot of love to get soft and tender. Love that you might not have time to give some days. Some of these recipes call for the pork belly to be marinated for 24 hours prior to cooking them for 2 1/2 – 3 hours. I don’t doubt they are absolutely delicious, but damn, who has time for this. This recipe is designed for convenience while still delivering on flavor. Cue in the thin cut pork belly.
A common cut in Asian supermarkets, thin cut pork belly is primarily sold for BBQ. This cut cooks fast while still delivering on the pork belly flavor. Don’t expect to find this in your local ShopRite or Whole Foods. If you have access to a specialty Asian market check there. I got mine from H Mart which is my favorite Korean grocery store to stock up on ingredients anytime I have an Asian inspired shoot. You can also buy this online at Umami Cart which is a great resource (if they ship to your zipcode).
I understand some of the below ingredients can not be found in your standard supermarket. I added in links where applicable. Always check your local area for an Asian specialty market.
If you’ve eaten a Bahn Mi, you have had this pickle before. Also called Đồ Chua, this easy and quick pickled daikon and carrots is acidic and a little sweet making it the perfect pickle to cut into the fatty pork belly.
Make the Pickle – Peel and julienne the daikon and carrots, and place in a large bowl. Add a heavy pinch of salt and mix thoroughly. Let this sit for 10 minutes, the salt is going to pull out the excess moisture. After 10 minutes strain the daikon and carrots, and place in a mason jar. On the stove bring the water to a simmer and add the sugar. Heat until the sugar has completely dissolved. Pour the warm mixture over the daikon and carrots and add the vinegar. Let this sit for 30 minutes to an hour before eating.
Steam the Bao Buns – Always refer to the packaging instructions for exact cook time however place square pieces of parchment in the bamboo steamer. Add the bao buns and steam over a saucepan (one that is the same size as the steamer) until cooked through (mine was approx. 15 minutes).
Cook the Meat – Place a skillet over medium heat. Generously salt the pork belly. Once heated up add the pork belly to the pan and sear for 1-2 minutes on each side. Make sure the pan is hot when you sear the meat, not only will this allow you to not use any additional oil to cook the pork belly in but it will allow the meat to brown in the short amount of cook time.
Additional Add Ins + Assembly – In a bowl add and mix together the mayo ingredients. Pick off pieces of cilantro (stems included is fine), and slice the jalapeño. To each bao add 2 pieces of pork belly, a generous amount of pickle, 2-3 slices of jalapeño, some spicy mayo, and cilantro. Serve immediately.
Once you assemble to pork belly bao buns there is no saving them. The spicy mayo can be stored in the fridge in an airtight container for up to a week. The daikon radish pickle can be stored for 2-3 weeks.
Looking for other dishes to serve with this one? Check out the below!