Fluffy and savory Gua Bao can be found on the streets of Taiwan, China, and beyond. Once you take your first bite, you’ll understand why! Each pork belly bun is soft and chewy, savory and spicy, and full of contrasting yet complementary textures and flavors.
Pork belly bao, or gua bao, is a popular Eastern Asian meal that is commonly enjoyed both as a home cooked dish or quick fast food fix. Each recipe will vary slightly, but the meal itself remains relatively consistent: steamed buns filled with crispy pork belly.
I prefer the Taiwanese pork belly flavors, which I use in this recipe. The seasonings are somewhat sweet but also rather spicy: brown sugar is balanced by white pepper and Szechuan chili. These ingredients are accompanied by onions and ginger, soy sauce, dry cooking wine, and a blend of Chinese spices.
For toppings, I’ve concocted a tangy pickled shallot and sweet peanut combo for a crisp crunch and burst of sweet and salty flavors in each bite.
Another filling you might want to try is this Chinese BBQ Pork. Try both, and let me know which you prefer!
INGREDIENT NOTES AND SUBSTITUTIONS
For a full list of ingredients, see the recipe card at the bottom of the page.
- Pork Belly - Taiwanese pork belly is flavored with:
- Shallots & Green Onions - Both milder onions, sharp but not overwhelming.
- Ginger Root - Peeled, quartered, and cooked, it becomes warm and sweet.
- Shaoxing Wine - This popular Chinese cooking wine can be replaced with dry sherry, if necessary.
- Soy Sauce - You can use either light or dark soy sauce.
- Brown Sugar - To add a deep, rich, complex sweetness that you won’t get from white sugar. You could replace it with honey.
- Szechuan Chili Flakes - Made from fried chili peppers, these flakes are smoky in flavor and a brilliant red color.
- Chinese Five Spice - A staple of Asian cooking, it’s a combination of warm, earthy spices and varies slightly from brand to brand. I recommend making my personal spice blend for a balance of flavor that’s perfect for pork belly bao.
- White Pepper - For a more mild, complex heat compared to black pepper, though it would make a fine substitute.
- Pickled Shallots - Thinly sliced shallots, covered with rice wine vinegar and seasoned with minced Bird’s Eye Chili.
- Sweet Peanuts - Roasted Peanuts that are crushed and dusted with powdered sugar.
- Gua Bao Buns - Buy them from any Asian store in the frozen department or make your own bao buns with my recipe.
HOW TO MAKE GUA BAO
1. Prepare the Pickled Shallots. Cut two shallots into thin slices. Mince the chili. Add both to a small bowl and pour over the rice wine vinegar. Let sit while preparing the rest of the dish.
2. Prepare the Sweet Peanuts. Chop the roasted peanuts and add them to a separate bowl. Dust them with powdered sugar, stir and set aside for topping OR blitz both in a small food processor.
3. Pre-Boil the Meat. Slice the meat lengthwise into cuts that are roughly 1” thick – thinner is fine, but don’t go thicker. Transfer to a Dutch oven and fill with enough cold water to cover. Boil for a couple of minutes before removing the meat. Set aside.
4. Fry the Pork. Dump out the water, dry with paper towel and begin heating oil in the pot. Fry the boiled pork, browning on each side. Leave in the pot, toss in all of the pork belly seasonings, and cover with water.
5. Boil. Let cook in boiling water for 1.5 hours while the meat becomes tender. Meanwhile, make the steamed buns.
HOW TO ASSEMBLE GUA BAO
1. Prepare the Sauce. Transfer the cooked meat to a plate and cover to keep warm. Remove all of the solid ingredients from the water as well. Boil the remaining liquid and let simmer until the sauce reduces and thickens slightly.
2. Coat the Meat. Cut the pork into even smaller, 3” pieces, and add to the pot. Stir to coat each piece with the sauce.
3. Add Fillings & Serve. Peel open the steamed bao buns and place a couple pieces of meat in each. Top each pork belly bun with the pickled shallots, cilantro, and sweet peanuts. And enjoy!
What does gua bao taste like?
The steamed buns used to make pork belly bao are mild yet delicious. They’re pillowy soft and somewhat chewy as well. The Taiwanese pork belly filling is tender, fatty, and flavorful and tossed in a savory, tangy sauce seasoned with Asian spices.
Each pork belly bun is topped with some fresh cilantro, sweet crunchy peanuts, and pickled shallots. It’s a great mix of acidity, sweetness, spice, and savory.
How do you reheat gua bao?
Because of the fluffy buns and thin slices of meat, microwaving is the best way to reheat any leftover pork belly bao. Cover with a damp paper towel and microwave in short bursts until the meat is warmed through. I would recommend reheating the meat and buns separately so that the bread doesn’t become soggy.
What are bao buns made of?
The buns themselves are made from a simple yeast dough. They’re quickly steamed and incredibly light, airy, and fluffy. They’re actually very simple to make at home. I highly recommend my recipe Taiwanese Steamed Bao Buns.
Gua Bao (Pork Belly Bao)
- 1.5 lb pork belly
- 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
- 6 cloves garlic smashed
- 4 green onions
- 4- inch ginger root peeled and quartered
- 2 shallots sliced
- 4 tablespoons Shaoxing wine or dry sherry
- 4 tablespoons dark soy sauce or soy sauce
- 2 tablespoons brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons Szechuan chili Flakes
- 1 teaspoon Chinese Five Spice
- ½ teaspoon ground white pepper
- 2 shallots sliced thin
- rice wine vinegar to cover
- 1 red Birds Eye Chili minced
- ½ cup roasted peanuts crushed
- 2 teaspoons powdered sugar
- 10 Gua Bao Buns (or store bought)
- Pickled Shallots
- Sweet Peanuts
- ½ cup cilantro leaves
- Thinly slice the shallots and mince the red chili. Transfer to a small bowl and cover with rice wine vinegar. Set aside.
- Finely chop roasted peanuts and mix with powdered sugar in a bowl. Set aside.
- Cut the pork belly lengthwise into 1 inch thick slabs. Place in a Dutch oven and cover with cold water. Bring to a boil and continue to cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Remove pork, set aside on paper towels.
- Drain pot and heat oil. Fry pork belly until browned on both sides. Add garlic, green onions, ginger, shallots, Shaoxing wine, soy sauce, brown sugar, chili flakes, Chinese Five spice, white pepper and enough water to cover.
- Bring to a boil and continue cooking for around 1 ½ hours or until the pork belly becomes tender, but not falling apart. Make steamed buns.
- Remove pork belly pieces and keep warm on covered plate. Remove solids from braising liquid and discard. Bring to a boil, then simmer for 10 minutes to reduce and thicken.
- Cut pork belly into 3-inch pieces and toss with the reduced liquid to coat.
- Carefully pull each steamed bun apart to open and add 1-2 pieces of pork belly, pickled shallots, cilantro and sprinkle with sweet peanuts.
*The information shown below is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist's advice.