I first tried a vegetarian version of gua bao 刈包 (guà bāo), pork belly buns, at my Taiwanese friend’s potluck many years ago. It’s a common breakfast and street food snack in Taiwan. Gua bao has a signature look with an opening like a mouth—this is where you stuff your favorite filling. Traditionally, gua bao features braised meat, paired with sour mustard and crushed peanuts.
As I’m rounding up recipes for Lunar New Year, I thought why not share this veganized gua bao? It’s a cozy, satisfying snack, or a meal in itself. Imagine holding a warm bun, stuffed with savory tofu on a cold day. Ah…comfort food! This recipe is perfect for any day and, according to CNN Travel, “eating gua bao signifies devouring bad luck.” Isn’t it perfect to take a bite for a delicious meal and maybe for some good fortune too? —WoonHeng Chia
1 hour 30 minutes
(1 3/4 cups plus 2 tablespoons) all-purpose flour
firm tofu, sliced into 6 slabs
slices peeled ginger
scallions, tied into a knot
1 1/2 tablespoons
vegan oyster sauce
thick caramel sauce
toasted sesame oil
ground white pepper
Salt, to taste
Neutral oil, for cooking
sour mustard, soaked in water for 1 hour
slices peeled ginger
dried chile, soaked in hot water until soft
chopped cilantro leaves
Crushed toasted peanuts, tossed with granulated sugar
- To make the gua bao, mix the sugar and warm water in a cup, then add the yeast. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes, until the yeast turns foamy.
- Place the flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer and use a rubber spatula to stir to combine. Add the yeast mixture and stir until a shaggy dough forms. Stir in the oil.
- Now fit the mixer with a dough hook and knead the dough at a low speed for 8 to 10 minutes, until a smooth dough forms. (If there are still dry spots of flour after 2 to 3 minutes of mixing, add some water, 1 tablespoon at a time.)
- Transfer the dough to a clean work surface and divide it into 6 pieces (about 65 grams each). Work with one dough at a time and cover the rest with a cloth to prevent them from drying out. Knead each piece by hand to remove air bubbles. Now roll it into a ball, cover, and let rest for 5 minutes.
- Meanwhile, cut out 6 (4×3-inch) parchment rectangles and set aside.
- Lightly flour a work surface. Uncover a dough ball and flatten it with your palm. Roll into an oval about 3-inches in diameter (about 1/4-inch thick).. Brush with oil, then fold in half to form a semi-circle. Place on a parchment rectangle and transfer this to a steamer filled with water.
- Repeat the above step with the remaining dough balls.
- Proof the bao for about 45 minutes, until they have fluffed up. To check, gently poke the dough: If it bounces back, then it’s ready.
- While the bao are proofing, work on the braised tofu. Heat a large nonstick pan and add a drizzle of oil. Pan-fry the tofu until golden brown. Transfer to a plate.
- Using the same pan, add a little more oil and sauté the ginger until aromatic. Add the garlic, scallion, and chile, and keep cooking until fragrant. Pour in the water and add the star anise, cinnamon stick, and season with the sauces, sugar, sesame oil, white pepper, and salt (if needed).
- Add the tofu back to the pan and bring the mixture to a boil. Now drop the heat to medium and simmer until the sauce is reduced to one-third of its volume. Remove the ginger, garlic, scallion, chile, star anise, and cinnamon. Combine the cornstarch with 1/2 teaspoon water, then stir this slurry into the sauce to thicken the sauce. Turn off the heat.
- Prepare the sour mustard: Wash and rinse the soaked sour mustard with clean water 2 to 3 times. Thinly slice.. Heat a large pan and add the oil. Sauté the ginger, garlic, and chile until fragrant, then add the sour mustard. Stir-fry for 1 minute, then add the sugar and continue to cook for another minute. Dish out and set aside
- Cook the proofed bao: Turn on the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Lower the heat to medium-high and steam the bao for 8 minutes. Turn off the heat and let them stay in the steamer for another 8 minutes before removing them.
- Remove the bao from the steamer, then stuff with braised tofu, sour mustard, crushed peanuts, and cilantro.