The food item we call cua pao does not seem to appear in the Chinese culinary vocabulary. Yet, it appears prominently in local versions of Chinese cooking. Cua pao is the generic term for folded steamed sweet buns with filling. And whether the filling is humba (the local adaptation of the Chinese hong ma) or pata tim, we call it cua pao.
Strictly speaking, the folded steamed buns are called manthao and they are available in some supermarkets. If you want to make cua pao at home, you can cook humba or pata tim, slice the meat and use as filling.
You’re looking at home-made cua pao above. When I discovered frozen and ready-to-steam manthao at the supermarket yesterday, my next move was to buy a slab of pork belly. Despite the appearance of cua pao, it is not difficult to make at home. Humba is a very fuss-free pork stew and so long as you don’t intend to make the buns yourself, once the stew is done, it’s really just a matter of assembling. Of course, I want to be able to make manthao from scratch someday but that’s something in my to do list as of now.
- 1.5 kg. slab of pork belly
- 2 tbsps. of black bean sauce (available in jars; if unavailable, use salted black beans (tausi), rinsed, and ground)
- 3 sprigs of oregano (I used fresh; use only half as much if using dried)
- 1 whole garlic
- 4 shallots (sibuyas Tagalog) or 2 small onions
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 star anise
- salt, optional
- 3 tbsps. of cooking oil
- Heat the cooking oil in a wide non-stick pan.
- When smoking, lower the pork belly, skin side up and cook over high heat for a few minutes, without touching, until seared. How do you know it’s sufficiently seared if you don’t lift the meat to check? Me, I can tell by the smell and by the volume of the sizzling. I suggest you let the pork fry for 4 minutes before lifting and checking the underside if it has lightly browned. When it is, flip the pork over and brown the skin as well to make it puffy.
- The oil will spatter — big time. If you have a screen to cover the frying pan, use it. If you only have the regular solid cover, cover the pan partially to make sure that the steam that build inside does not fall back in because that will make the pork soggy and cause even more oil spatters.
- When the pork is nicely browned, just add the rest of the ingredients, pour enough water to cover three quarters of the pork, bring to the boil, then lower the heat, cover and simmer for an hour and a half to two hours or until the pork is very, very tender. Turn the pork halfway through cooking. Add more water if the sauce dries up before the pork is done.
- Take the pork out of the sauce, place on a platter and cool. Meanwhile, strain the sauce and boil until reduced to about ¾ cup.
When the pork has cooled, take the manthao out of the fridge or freezer.
That’s how they look. A rectangular piece of white bread folded in half and lined with paper underneath.
So, place the manthao, in single layers, in steamer racks over simmering water. Reheat for 10 minutes or until hot and soft and the top spring back when poked.
Place the cooled pork on a cutting board and slice as thinly as you can. Arrange on a serving platter, garnish with crushed peanuts and thinly sliced onion leaves. Pour some sauce over.
To assemble: Unfold the manthao. Place a slice of pork and a little sauce inside. Top with crushed peanuts and onion leaves, refold and serve.
You can assemble the cua pao before serving or serve the manthao, humba, additional crushed peanuts and onion leaves in separate plates and let everyone make his own cua pao.