Part of my Vegan MoFo 2013 is doing blog entries dedicated to each year I've been vegan.
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.
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.
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!