Gua Bao (Pork Belly Bao)

5 from 1 vote

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.

Gua Bao on a plate ready to eat

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!

overhead view of pork belly bao

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 PeanutsRoasted 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.
sliced shallots in vinegar with chiles

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.

slices of pork belly on a plate

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. 

ingredients in a pot for gua bao

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.

slices of glazed pork belly

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.

buns ready to be filled with pork belly

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!

Ready to serve pork belly bao

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.

several gua bao sandwiches lined up on a platter

Gua Bao (Pork Belly Bao)

5 from 1 vote
My Gua Bao recipe incorporates spicy yet sweet Asian flavors into tender, crisp pork belly slices, all wrapped in a fluffy steamed bun.
Servings: 10
Prep: 20 minutes
Cook: 1 hour 55 minutes
Total: 2 hours 15 minutes

Ingredients 

Pork Belly

Pickled Shallots

  • 2 shallots sliced thin
  • rice wine vinegar to cover
  • 1 red Birds Eye Chili minced

Sweet Peanuts

Serving

  • 10 Gua Bao Buns (or store bought)
  • Pickled Shallots
  • Sweet Peanuts
  • 1/2 cup cilantro leaves

Instructions 

Pickled Shallots

  • Thinly slice the shallots and mince the red chili. Transfer to a small bowl and cover with rice wine vinegar. Set aside.

Sweet Peanuts

  • Finely chop roasted peanuts and mix with powdered sugar in a bowl. Set aside.

Pork Belly

  • 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 1/2 hours or until the pork belly becomes tender, but not falling apart. Make steamed buns.

Assembly

  • 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.

Video

Notes

Nutrition calculation is for meat and condiments only. See Gua Bao Buns for nutrition information. 

Nutrition

Calories: 438kcal | Carbohydrates: 9g | Protein: 10g | Fat: 40g | Saturated Fat: 14g | Cholesterol: 49mg | Sodium: 486mg | Potassium: 310mg | Fiber: 2g | Sugar: 4g | Vitamin A: 588IU | Vitamin C: 4mg | Calcium: 34mg | Iron: 1mg

The information shown is an estimate provided by an online nutrition calculator. It should not be considered a substitute for a professional nutritionist’s advice.

Course: main dishes
Cuisine: Asian, Taiwanese
Author: Kevin
Have You Made This Recipe? Let Me Know on InstagramTag @keviniscooking or tag me #keviniscooking!
pork belly bao ready to serve

Kevin

I was bitten by the cooking bug as a kid cooking and baking along side my mom. After an ROP restaurant course in high school, I went to work in restaurants and catering. My love of travel and food has led me across the world and I love to share those foods with family and friends.

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