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Bao buns, also known as “steamed buns” or “baozi,” are treats of warm, stuffed white dough. The bao is a little sweeter than your average bread bun. 

It complements various flavors of stuffings, from sweet to savory.

During the Three Kingdoms Period, a military strategist named Zhuge Liang saw his soldiers suffering from the plague. This caused him to create a head-shaped food as a symbolic offering to the gods. 

He gave this creation to his soldiers. This new dish was first called mantou. But by the 10th century, the name “baozi” finally stuck with “bao” meaning “wrapping.”

Baos vary in size and style depending on which region they are from. Here are a few baozi you may encounter while eating in China.

Xiaolong Bao - 小笼包 (xiăo lóng bāo)

Xiaolong Bao was popularized internationally with the help of the Taiwanese chain Din Tai Fung, but its origin lies in Shanghai. 

The literal translation of its name from Mandarin is “small basket buns,” named after the steamer baskets they come in. What distinguishes this dish from others is its pork-based filling and juicy broth.

Xiaolong Bao are also encased in a paper thin skin that holds together all its contents in one delicious bite. This rich and savory dish will have you begging for more. 

Location: Shanghai 

Yacai bao - 芽菜包 (yá cài bāo)

Yacai bao is commonly associated with Sichuan province. It is a thick fluffy bun filled with yacai, preserved vegetables typical for the area. 

These buns are often enjoyed at the start of the day for breakfast or lunch. 

Location: Sichuan

Zhima bao - 芝麻包 (zhīma bāo)

This Chinese steamed bun is filled with black sesame paste. The buns are made with the same dough found in Yacai bao. 

However, the filling includes a combination of black sesame, sugar, water and cornstarch. Zhima bao is a sweet pastry commonly eaten for breakfast or as a snack!

Location: Throughout China 



Char siu bao - 叉烧包 (chāshāo bāo)

Char siu bao are popular Chinese pork roast buns. They can be found steamed or baked, but they are always filled with a sweet and spicy grilled pork filling. 

This filling is traditionally known as Chinese char siu pork: slowly roasted pieces of pork soaked in barbecue sauce. 

Location: Throughout China 


As you can see not all baos are dumplings, and not all dumplings are baos. But the baozi across China do come from the same origin and are always wrapped up in delicious flavors!


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Abigail Heng

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