Is it man tao, man tou, manthao or manthou?

The problem with the English version of Chinese names of food is how the spelling follows how the Chinese name sounds. Take, for instance, the sweet bun that is often referred to as man tao, the bread used for making cua pao. Back when I made that cua pao over two years ago, the bread I bought was spelled manthao. Is it man tao, man tou, manthao or manthou?

Apparently, depending on the country of origin (or manufacturer preferences), they are also sold as manthao, man tou, mantou or manthou. Is it man tao, man tou, manthao or manthou?

Even more surprisingly, I discovered that they now come in different flavors. These are pandan-flavored mantou which I split to make Asian-style burgers. Recipe coming up.


      • carlos says

        This is the first time i heard about this.. i made a research on mantao.
        Mantou, often referred to as Chinese steamed bun/bread, is a kind of steamed bun originating in China. They are typically eaten as a staple in northern parts of China where wheat, rather than rice, is grown. They are made with milled wheat flour, water and leavening agents. In size and texture, they range from 4 cm, soft and fluffy in the most elegant restaurants, to over 15 cm, firm and dense for the working man’s lunch. (As white flour, being more heavily processed, was once more expensive, white mantou were somewhat of a luxury in preindustrial China.)

        A popular story in China relates that the name mantou actually originated from the identically written and pitched, but more heavily pronounced word mántóu meaning “barbarian’s head”.

        This story originates from the Three Kingdoms Period, when the strategist Zhuge Liang led the Shu Army in an invasion of the southern lands (roughly modern-day Yunnan and northern Burma). After subduing the barbarian king Meng Huo, Zhuge Liang led the army back to Shu, but met a swift-flowing river which defied all attempts to cross it. A barbarian lord informed him, in olden days, the barbarians would sacrifice 50 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river spirit and allow them to cross; Zhuge Liang, however, did not want to cause any more bloodshed, and instead killed the cows and horses the army brought along, and filled their meat into buns shaped roughly like human heads – round with a flat base – to be made and then thrown into the river. After a successful crossing, he named the buns “barbarian’s head” (mántóu, ??, which evolved into the present day ??).

        This is mind seeking..

  1. peasmom says

    There are so, so many Chinese dialects, so the English name for something usually depends on the place where the item is known for. Since Mandarin is the official national language, there will usually be a version that will be in Mandarin sound. For uniformity and consistency, the official Chinese pinyin method of “sounding” should be used to name the English names. However, not everyone knows pinyin so the spelling of the English names may come out different. For the breads you mentioned, the official Mandarin sound and spelling is man tou. :-)

  2. Ollirmp says

    i just discovered these buns when we ate at a Singaporean resto. We had it with crabs, peppered and Singapore Chili Crabs. When I came home 2 weeks ago, I saw a lot of our local supermarkets already have them – CVC, Robinson’s. So, I got some and made home-made crabs with roasted garlic and EVOO (ala Crab Maritess). Yum! yum!

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