Beijing Baozi

Two blocks away from Zhongguanxinyuan, the student dorm building, there is a marvelous, very popular “baozi” restaurant called “Steamed Bun Restaurant.” Yes, I know the name isn’t very original, but that doesn’t seem to bother most customers. Every day, the restaurant is packed with locals and foreigners. This is because, in Beijing, this restaurant seems to have it all: clean eating environment, cheap prices, plenty of options.

Baozis are steamed buns filled with meat, vegetables or both. My favorite is pork and assorted vegetables. In China, most food is just distinguishable by meat or vegetable, so you really don’t know what you’re eating unless you ask. The fact that this restaurant has an English menu, advanced register technology that allows you to pay with your phone (specifically using WeChat or Alipay), sinks to wash your hands, and a large eating area makes this baozi restaurant second to none.

Because the restaurant was extremely busy, it was hard to maintain the waiter’s attention for more than several minutes, so asking him how to make the famous baozi was not an easy task. You need: classic Chinese bamboo steamer, large stock pot (to put the steamer inside) or a wok, flour, sourdough starter, and warm water. This is how you make the dough. After kneading the dough for several minutes, you make little balls and fill the inside with whatever you want. Their steamed pork and bamboo is the most popular option. Afterwards, you place the raw buns in the steamer and after around 20 minutes, you have some baozi! They serve the buns in the steamer.

I asked the waiter the historical significance of the food, but he didn’t really seem to know. He just said that it was a staple of Beijing, especially for breakfast.

Not being satisfied by the waiter’s lack of historical knowledge, I went online to research why baozi was so culturally and nationally important. The history of baozi dates back to 220-280 AD. One of the most notorious military strategists of time time, Zhuge Liang (181-234),¬†was on an expedition to far South China when his army caught a plague. He invented baozi out of pork and beef shaped as a human head to offer as a sacrifice. Also, he used the food as nutrition to cure the soldiers’ plague.

I can definitely see why baozi is so integral to Chinese culture. It plays a huge role in everyday life and brings people not only from all over China, but all over the world together.