Part of my Vegan MoFo 2013 is doing blog entries dedicated to each year I've been vegan.
As I mentioned before, I moved to Hong Kong in 2004 to live with my then-boyfriend. I lived there for just under two years and eventually came back to California in mid-2006 because I was homesick and jobless. One of the things I developed in Hong Kong which has never left me is an enduring love of cha siu bao.

Cha siu bao are a vital component of a traditional southern Chinese dim sum assortment. Cha siu (also spelled char siu) is Cantonese for 'barbeque,' with bao being bun. Traditionally, cha siu bao is made of finely diced bbq pork inside a fluffy steamed rice flour bun, but because Buddhist vegetarianism has a long-established influence in many regional Chinese cuisines, it's no big challenge to find cha siu bao made with bbq wheat gluten instead of pork.

The best vegan cha siu bao IN THA WORRRLD can be found for a shiny quarter at Light Vegetarian, a massive restaurant with three different all-you-can-eat buffets in the Jordan neighborhood of Hong Kong's Kowloon Peninsula. 

My favorite place here in the Bay Area is Lucky Creation in San Francisco Chinatown. Luckily for me, it's only a five minute walk from my office! If you are in San Francisco, be sure to check it out. They are open at 11 am every day except Wednesday. The freshly steamed cha siu bao is usually available at the front counter (with some other types of dim sum and gluten-by-the-pound) by 11:30. 

PictureWatch out for Raiden, old dude!
They're one door up from a little street called Ross Alley. Not only is there a teeny-tiny florist and a teeny-tiny fortune cookie factory to peek into on Ross Alley, but if you come out of it on Jackson Street and turn around to look at the entrance to alley, you may recognize it as the turn Kurt Russell takes to his fateful meeting with Lo Pan's three toadies in Big Trouble in Little China. Of course, you'll laugh, because there's no way a semi truck would even fit down Jackson, much less turn down Ross. But everything else in that movie is 100% COMPLETELY PLAUSIBLE. 

If you decide to go for the more authentic cha siu bao in Hong Kong and Guandong, or if you're a fan of buns in general, you will want to put the Cheung Chau Bun Festival on your bucket list. Held the 4th month of the lunar year (April/May), the festival is a tribute to the Taoist god Pak Tai. The legend is that once a statue of Pak Tai was brought to the island in the 18th century, pirate raids upon the villagers ceased and a plague that had sickened the residents abated. To show gratitude during the annual festival, the entire island goes vegetarian for three entire days. While individual residents aren't policed in their homes, local restaurants and grocers are prohibited from selling meat for the duration of the festival- even the island's McDonald's cannot sell hamburgers, chicken nuggets, or fish filets. Vendors everywhere are selling different types of sweet and savory buns, all vegetarian. The island is home to over a dozen troupes of lion dancers, who perform outrageous stunts in the streets while incense sticks 12 inches in diameter smolder in front of the temple. The festival culminates in a parade of costumed children who appear to float above the crowd on wires, and a contest wherein competitors race to the top of a tower covered in buns. The higher the bun, the luckier it is! 

I conclude my post on bao with a great song from Hong Kong's very own McDull (a cartoon pig who portrays a child's life in the big city). In this song (from one of his movies), he sings about his love of buns and swimming through a sea of buns to Cheung Chau Island to eat more buns. My Cantonese is pretty bad these days, but the lyrics I do remember are "big buns, two more please!"


09/12/2013 9:23am

These look so good! I wonder how difficult they would be to make at home.

Forgive my total ignorance on buns, you said they were made with rice flour - does that mean they are gluten-free or is there other glutinous ingredients in the buns??

09/12/2013 1:01pm

I can't speak to how GF or not rice flour is (I know there is such a thing as glutinous rice flour, which is used to make mochi). I do know that vegan cha siu bao are not gluten free because the cha siu is made out of flavored wheat gluten. It may be possible to make gluten free jai bao (vegetable buns)!

09/13/2013 8:08am

Super interesting and informative post! And those bao look delicious!

09/16/2013 4:57pm

Thank you! THEY ARE.

09/14/2013 7:51pm

cha siu bao are my favorite thing ever, too! i really like them from vegetarian dim sum house in nyc, but i haven't had them from that many other places! I made some pretty recently from Vegan Eats World that were good and surprisingly not as hard as I thought (maybe because i used store bought seitan).

09/16/2013 4:57pm

I have never tried making them at home... YET. It seems intimidating but I love them so much I am determined to try.

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