Manapua is one of Hawaii’s favorite comfort foods, and it’s perfect for an on-the-go bite! This delicious snack derives its name from one of two Hawaiian phrases—either “delicious pork thing” or “mountain of pork”—and it gives you a great idea of what to expect when you bite into this fluffy bun.
Manapua has its roots in Chinese baozi, steamed wheat rolls filled with Char Siu pork. These buns made their way to Hawaii in the 19th century, when Chinese immigrants arrived as contract workers at sugar plantations. Once they finished their contracts at the plantations, several entrepreneurial workers began selling these buns to their neighbors. They quickly became so popular that many of the merchants had to build restaurants to keep up with the demand, while others had to get creative to keep their business mobile. The “Manapua Man” arrived on the scene as the 1970s precursor to the modern food truck, driving all around Hawaiian neighborhoods to sell manapua and musubi to hungry customers.
You might not have access to a Manapua Man van, but these buns are surprisingly easy to make at home! If you want to experiment with different flavors, try filling yours with teriyaki beef, curry chicken, or even purple sweet potatoes. The sky’s the limit with these treats!
1 TBSP oil
1 lb Char Siu pork, diced
1 cup shredded cabbage
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 TBSP oyster sauce
2 TBSP hoisin sauce
3/4 tsp Chinese five-spice
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper
1 packet dry yeast (about 2 1/2 tsp)
2/3 cup lukewarm water
1 TBSP honey
1 TBSP sesame oil
2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour (for fluffier buns, replace 1/2 cup with cake flour)
In a large sauté pan or wok, heat the oil over medium heat. Once hot, toss in the pork, cabbage, garlic, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, five-spice, and black pepper. Toss and cook together until the cabbage is tender, about 3-4 minutes. Remove from the heat, and let cool to room temperature.
Combine the yeast, water, honey, sesame oil, and flour in a mixing bowl. Knead together into a smooth, tight dough, about 5 minutes. Cover with a tea towel and let rise for about an hour, until the dough has doubled in size. Punch down the dough back to its original size, then divide into 12 even pieces. Roll each piece into a 3-inch circle, leaving the center slightly thicker than the edges. Add 1 1/2 TBSP of the pork filling into the center of the circle, fold the edges over the filling, and pinch the top closed.
To bake, preheat the oven to 350F. Place buns at least 2 inches apart on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet, and brush lightly with a beaten egg. Bake for 20-25 minutes, until golden brown.
Alternately, to steam, place each of the buns in the center of 3-inch parchment paper squares. Bring about 3 cups of water to a boil in a pot, and place a bamboo steaming basket on top. Arrange the buns in a flat layer in the basket, allowing space for the buns to grow. Cover and steam for 10-12 minutes, then remove the buns to a plate. Serve warm.
Makes 12 buns.