Few sensations are more satisfying than biting into a warm, steaming piece of dough stuffed with sauce and meat, which is probably why so many cultures have their own version. Chinese cuisine features many interpretations of meat-stuffed doughs, and one of the best known is the char siu bao, a type of pork bun (“char siu” refers to the Cantonese-style barbecue pork filling, and “bao” refers to the bun itself).
A dim sum favorite, these buns typically come in two varieties: steamed (with a fluffy white bread that’s leavened with yeast, baking soda, and sometimes ammonium bicarbonate, which helps create the bun’s signature burst-open look) and baked (with a light brown, soft, yeasted sweet bread, often glazed with honey or a sugary syrup). Biting into these buns reveals a distinctive reddish (and sometimes brownish) filling of sticky, sweet sauce and chunks of savory char siu.
Char siu bao can be found in dim sum restaurants, Chinese bakeries, and Asian supermarkets (usually frozen, but sometimes fresh) throughout Greater Boston. In dim sum restaurants, char siu bao are typically sold in orders of three, and the buns are slightly smaller; in bakeries, the buns are often sold individually and tend to be larger and served at room temperature.
Here are a few tips before setting out on a char siu bao tasting:
- Bring cash. Many spots on this map are cash only or have a minimum for credit card charges.
- Some locations on this map only serve char siu bao as part of their dim sum service, which is typically offered at breakfast and lunch.
- Char siu bao tends to sell out quickly at Chinese bakeries, so plan to go early.
- Bakeries usually sell buns at room temperature. Warm the buns at home in a steamer or in the oven, or wrap the buns in a damp paper towel and zap them in the microwave for three to five seconds.
Without further ado, here are the best char siu bao in and around Boston.
Please note that a number of Boston restaurants have resumed dine-in service, and the level of service offered is indicated on each map point. However, this should not be taken as endorsement for dining in, as there are still safety concerns: For updated information on coronavirus cases in the area, please visit the Massachusetts coronavirus website.
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