Main Dishes / Snacks

Spicy Pork Steamed Buns (Manapua)

Finally another savory recipe! Back home, manapua is one of my favorite lunch foods. It reminds me of being in middle school or high school and going to the nearest store or “manapua man” for an unbeatable after-school snack. I like all the different fillings (especially char siu) but recently, my favorite has been spicy pork. So, I decided to try recreating it here in DC!

What is manapua?

Manapua is just Hawaii’s name for Chinese char siu bao. In the 19th century, Chinese immigrants brought char siu bao to Hawaii when they came to work on the sugar cane or pineapple plantations. Soon enough, everyone discovered how delicious it was!

The original Hawaiian name was mea ono pua’a. “Mea ono” translates to delicious pastry or cake, while “pua’a” is the Hawaiian word for pork. Over time, that slowly merged to become manapua. The “manapua man” is a staple in Hawaii, dating back to the 70s. They’d drive through neighborhoods in vans selling basically anything you could think of, from manapua and pork hash to chewing gum and toys.

Nowadays, manapua is still incredibly popular and can be found very easily. They’re no longer the palm-sized baozi that you’ll find at dim sum restaurants and are instead huge rounds of steamed bread stuffed with any type of filling you could want.

P.S. My favorite part of writing this is that I got most of this information from this 7/11 Hawaii article. Who knew!

These manapua are smaller than the ones you’ll find in Hawaii but still larger than regular baozi portions. I love this in-between portion size because you can comfortably have two for a meal or just one for a snack. You can even steam them, then pop them in the refrigerator or freezer for later.

The bao dough is a recipe from Woks of Life, one of my favorite food blogs. I’ve included it below for convenience, but they’ve got a couple of really great baozi recipes!

The filling is easily adapted to your own tastes. I wanted it to be incredibly flavorful and very spicy, but just keep tasting as you go and adjust as needed.

Spicy Pork Steamed Buns (Manapua)

These soft steamed bao, filled with a flavorful and spicy pork mixture, are the best snack or on-the-go meal. An incredibly adaptable recipe that everyone will enjoy!
Prep Time 45 minutes
Cook Time 20 minutes
Proofing Time 1 hour 30 minutes
Total Time 2 hours 35 minutes
Course Main Course, Snack
Servings 10 buns


For the dough:

  • 1 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 5 cups all purpose flour, plus extra

For the filling:

  • 1 1/2 lbs ground pork
  • 3 tbsp water
  • vegetable oil
  • 1 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 small can sliced water chestnuts
  • 4 oz sambal (at least 1/2 cup or more)
  • 1-2 tbsp oyster sauce
  • 2 tsp granulated sugar
  • 2 tsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp soy sauce
  • 1-2 tbsp hoisin sauce
  • 1 tbsp water
  • 1 1/2 tsp cornstarch
  • salt and pepper, to taste
  • 4 scallions, chopped


Make the dough:

  • In a large mixing bowl, combine the yeast and sugar with lukewarm water. Let sit for 10-15 minutes, until bubbly.
  • Add flour 1/2 cup at a time, until 4 1/2 cups have been added. Between every 1/2 cup, mix with a wooden spoon for about 15 minutes. With the last 1/2 cup, mix and incorporate. It should now be slightly less sticky.
  • Pour the last 1/2 cup of flour on a clean surface and turn out the dough on top of it. Knead the flour into the dough. This will help moderate the amount of flour added, so you can adjust if needed. It should be soft, not sticky, but also not too firm. Add more flour if still sticky.
  • Knead the dough until smooth and then form into a ball. Place into a clean mixing bowl and cover with a damp kitchen towl. Let it rise for one hour, or until doubled in size.

Make the filling:

  • Mix the ground pork in a large mixing bowl with 3 tablespoons of water.
  • In a medium to large pan, add vegetable oil, minced ginger, and diced onion. Cook over medium heat until onions have softned (not quite translucent yet).
  • Add the ground pork and cook over medium-high heat. Cook until opaque.
  • Add sauces and spices. Keep stirring until everything is evenly combined. Taste the filling and adjust to your tastes.
  • Cook for about 15-20 minutes, to allow extra liquid to evaporate.
  • Combine the cornstarch with 1 tbsp of water. Add mixture to the pork and cook for 5-10 more minutes. If, like me, you added a good amount of sambal, there may be some excess oil. You can skim the top with a spoon to remove.
  • Turn off the heat and mix in your water chestnuts. Once filling has cooled, add the chopped scallions as well.

Assemble your manapua:

  • Cut out ten 3-inch parchment squares.
  • Turn your risen dough out onto a lightly dusted surface and punch down. Separate into 10 equal portions. Roll into smooth balls.
  • Roll each dough ball evenly, until it's about 1/2-inch thickness. Then, roll the outer edges until about 1/4-inch thickness, so that there is a thicker center.
  • Place about 1 heaping tbsp into the center of the dough round. Pleat until all are fully sealed. Make sure your fingers and hands are completely dry, and that you don't get any filling on the edges, or they won't seal properly.
  • Alternatively, you can fully seal each manapua, by pinching the edges and flipping the buns seam side down (the Hawaii way).
  • Place each bun on a parchment square. Cover and proof for 15 minutes.

Cook your manapua:

  • Add cold water to your steamer. You can use whatever type of steamer set-up you have, I used a steaming basket placed within a saucepan. Ensure the water won't touch the buns when boiling.
  • Place the buns, with the parchment paper, into the steamer. Turn the heat to medium.
  • Steam for 15 minutes with the lid on. Then, turn the heat off and let them sit in the steamer for 5 more minutes.
  • Enjoy while fresh! After refrigeration, simply re-steam for a slightly shorter time.
Keyword asian, bao, chinese, manapua, pork, savory, snack, spicy

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