Cultural lesson time ! Eating bánh bao

This food is known as “bánh bao” (pronounced “bun bow”), and it comes in many variations. Bánh bao as I know it is a large mince dumpling with tiny boiled eggs inside. It is not a food of Vietnamese origin though. It is Chinese. Which is why I originally know it by one of its many Chinese names such as “shumai” (pronounced “shoe my”), although Wikipedia will again insist that it’s called “xiǎolóngbāo”. But the banh mi stall I buy them from calls them none of these. They call them “xiǎ mai”, though it’s pronounced the same as “shumai”. I asked my wife if she wanted “xiǎ mai” one day and she goes “What’s that ? I have no idea what that is”. I showed her one and she goes “oh you mean bánh bao” and I said “No. I mean xiǎ mai. That’s what they’re called. They’re a Chinese dumpling”. She said “No they’re not. They are Vietnamese food.” I said “Honey, they are xiǎ mai. Come and I’ll show you” and I took her to the stall and pointed to the writing on the side that said “xiǎ mai”. She goes “Huh. I have only ever called them bánh bao”.

To be honest, they are a fair bit different to Shanghai shumai because I have never known shumai to contain eggs, and normally they’re much smaller. You might be tempted to refer to these as a dumpling or a steamed bun, but the filling and texture can vary a lot. The Vietnamese version is a snack cake rather than a dumpling that you might eat dim sum style at a restaurant. Bánh bao are great because you can leave them in the warmer all day and they don’t dry out, they just continue to cook slowly, so you can stop into any roadside stall or petrol station and find someone selling these and you can grab one for 40-60 cents depending on the variety (most places have at least three types for sale), although I don’t know the names of the variations so I just pick the middle one which is 10,000 dong in Saigon because I eat that one all the time and it’s my favourite.

The best thing about these is you get them warm and fresh tasting and you just walk off with one and nom it as you walk. They are the perfect snack because they are not messy, they leave no crumbs (I end up covered in crumbs after a good bánh mi), they are very cheap and they are incredibly filling. Minced meat and eggs in a sweet tasting steamed cake shape. Whatever you call them, they are one of my favourite Vietnamese snacks and the perfect thing for wandering around with. Great for bus trips. Great to take a quick but healthy and cheap snack home for the kids. Hell, I just had two for breakfast. Om nom nom nom nom.

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2 Responses to Cultural lesson time ! Eating bánh bao

  1. Khazh says:

    The right word will be “Bánh Bao”. Bánh is cake and Bao is surrounded…. :D

    • pawz says:

      Hmmm. That explains the different pronunciation. Banh Bo is something different ? Wikipedia calls it a “cow cake” but says it’s made of rice. Maybe that explains my confusion. Thanks for the clarification !

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