Cooking on the Cheap: Siopao with Sassy Sauce


October 6, 2009 by skwishface

Back in The Day, in the era known as High School, I had a friend who loved to cook. She was Fillipino by way of Mexico, so whenever she brought a picnic for study hall it was always an interesting time. Not in the Chinese proverb sense. In the good sense. In the spicy weirdo flavor fusion sense. And we loved her for it.

My favorite creation of hers was this little fluffy white bun full of saucy spicy kinda sweet meaty goodness. It was like a kolache had grown up and travelled the world, then come back to tell my tastebuds some fantastic tales of its adventures. A dozen years later, I’ve lost touch with my friend, but the memory of her cooking lingers in my brain like a dream. Most especially those wonderful fluffy meat bun pie things. Can you tell I couldn’t for the life of me remember what they were called?

So I scoured the internet. Please, just take my word for it: do not google “mexican fillipino meat pie”. K? K. Disappointed, frustrated, and mildly horrified by the results of my search, I finally decided to just ask somebody. Now, I peruse alot of food sites. Many of them (Pioneer Woman, Tasty Kitchen, The Noshery) are very approachable and make food seem like something any of us slack-jawed yokels can do. But there are many many others that I feel are very much above my culinary pay-grade. Sites full of rabid foodies that can tell the difference between different ages of balsamic vinegar and who casually brunch on organic oatmeal with honeyed figs. I’m often put off by these sites because I feel like it’s not food that’s meant to be achieved and enjoyed, but to impress. Snooty, ya know? But I figured if anybody would delight in quickly and accurately solving my weird-food search problem, it would be these folks.

Enter the Serious Eats forums. I posted my question with a detailed description of the meat-bun-pie-thing and literally within minutes there was an answer. Siopao! Pronounced “show-pow”. It’s a Fillipino/Asian snack food. Awesome!

I scoured the internet once again, this time with a much more focused search – because it helps to have the name of the dish – and ended up mish-mashing several different recipe ideas together into something that is easy, simple, affordable, and so very yummy.

Siopao (cook time: 20 minutes, cost: less than $5, prep time: 9 years)
20 canned biscuits (2 cans)
2 cups pre-cooked pork, rough chopped
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon apricot preserves
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1+ teaspoons hot red chili sauce
2 teaspoons water
1 teaspoon corn starch
1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 scant teaspoon grated fresh ginger
1 scant teaspoon sesame oil

Sassy Sauce
3 heaping tablespoons apricot preserves
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1-2 teaspoons hot red chili sauce

(for a printable version of this recipe, check out the Tasty Kitchen)

Don’t look at me like that. Yes, apricot preserves. Yes, soy sauce. Trust in the skwishface.

Firstly, let us address the meaty filling.

The ginger looks like a headless treasure troll, and we're not talking about it.

The ginger looks like a headless treasure troll, and we're not talking about it.

Apricot Preserves is a diva and demanded its own solo picture:

Actually, I just didn't think to add this ingredient until much later.

Actually, I just didn't think to add this ingredient until much later.

The meat is leftover Sweet-n-Spicy Pulled Pork, but I imagine any already-cooked pork would do. Leftover pork chops and such. Emphasis on leftovers because there’s alot of saucey flavory business about to happen and you really don’t need premium fresh-cooked meat here. Anything you’ve got loitering around the fridge will get the job done. In this case, the pulled pork thawed out from its hibernation only slightly less juicy and marvelous as the day it was cooked.

I was so happy to see it, I chopped it up into little bits.

True love is best expressed with a santoku knife.

Joy is best expressed with a santoku knife.

Then the garlic and ginger went into a pan with olive oil and the almost-but-not-quite-a-teaspoon of sesame oil. Tread lightly with the sesame oil – the stuff is mighty and will overpower your tastebuds at the first opportunity. And why garlic paste? Well, because my mommy gave me a tube of garlic paste and by golly I was gonna try it. It’s pre-processed and squeezes out of a tube like hell’s toothpaste, but it was quick and easy and didn’t leave my hands stenching of garlic. Win!

We don't point out what the pile of garlic paste looks like. Because we're adults.

Is it just me, or does the garlic paste look like a kitty?

Sautee in the olive and sesame oil over medium-low heat, here, and stir often. Grated ginger and pastey garlic will burn faster than … I dunno, something fast. (brain cramp)

While that’s cooking for a minute or two, mix up your water and corn starch.

More sophisticated folk than me would call this a "slurry". I call it goo.

More sophisticated folk than me would call this a "slurry". I call it goo.

Set this aside to be added later. Dump your chopped up pork into the pan with the garlic and oil and such.

My measuring spoons have come out of hiding, so now you will be treated to a thrilling series of measuring pictures.

Add soy sauce!



Add hot red chili sauce!

Not pictures: the asbestos gloves and foot-long tongs used to handle this sauce.

Not pictured: the asbestos gloves and foot-long tongs required to handle this sauce.

Add apricot preserves!

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong.

One of these things is not like the others. One of these things just doesn't belong.

I know. It’s weird. But at this point the mix was alot salty and alot spicy and it needed a balance. And pork loves tangy fruit flavors. Trust me on this one – even The Husband, Crusader Against All Weird Food, enjoys this recipe.

Add in your corn starch goo. Mix it all around over the same medium-low heat until all the ingredients are incorporated and the goo has thickened it all up into a shredded-meat-coating sauce of wonder. My pork actually seemed to soak up alot of the sauce …

Is it pretty? No. Does it smell magnificent? Yes. Yes it does.

Is it pretty? No. Does it smell magnificent? Yes. Yes it does.

… and that was fine by me. Once everything comes together, scoop the meat out into a bowl and set it aside to cool a bit. Take a half-dozen pictures of it in an effort to make it appear prettier than it actually is.



Sigh. Shrug. Nibble bits of meat. Place the bowl far out of reach to stop yourself from nibbling lest you run out of siopao filling. For real, this is tasty. The apricot preserves are hardly sweet at all, mostly just lending a balance to all the salty spicy business and giving the whole mess a slightly tangy bite. I was so surprised that it actually worked, after the first taste I had a Keanu Reeves “whoa” moment.

Then I moved on to the dough.

In all the online recipes for siopao that I’d found, the dough seemed fairly simple. Flour, yeast, baking soda, cut with shortening, some water. Basically … biscuits. Ya know, if biscuits had yeast. And I’m getting over my fear of yeasty baking, insomuch as I’ve conquered pizza dough. But this entire recipe was fairly experimental and I was in the mood to cut corners.

So I cheated.

Mmmmm, artificially flavored ....

Mmmmm, artificially flavored ....

Did you know the Wal-Mart sells a four-pack of biscuits for a dollar? Ten biscuits to a can, and you’ve got 40 biscuits. For a dollar. That’s 2.5 cents per biscuit. Me likey cheap food.

Now keep in mind, the point of using these biscuits is to approximate plain, fluffy siopao dough. So get plain biscuits. Nothing extra buttery, extra flakey, or oddly cakey. Plain ol’ buttermilk biscuits will do you proud.

And now, the series of photos illustrating the siopao construction process. It’s like the food blog equivalent of the ’80s movie training montage.

Ah, the lone biscuit, still imprinted with the shape of the can.

Ah, the lone biscuit, still imprinted with the can, longing to be something more.

Roll the biscuit out flat, add a tablespoon or so of filling. *inspiring powerchord*

Roll the biscuit out flat, add a tablespoon or so of filling. *inspiring powerchord*

Fold up two sides of the dough and pinch together. *you got the touch ...*

Fold up two sides of the dough and pinch together. *you got the touch ...*

Fold up the other two sides, pinch and twist to seal. *you got the powaaaaah!*

Fold up the other two sides, pinch and twist to seal. *you got the powaaaaah!*

Did I mention that these will be steamed? Probably not. Okay, so we’ll be steaming these. There.

I suppose you could use a special bamboo steamer, and doing so would probably be more authentic. But we’re already using canned biscuits, so “authentic” is pretty much out the window. I just got a big pot, put about an inch of water in the bottom, got it bubbly, and employed my vegetable steamer basket thing.

Thrilling through-the-lid photography!

Thrilling through-the-lid photography!

See how neatly I cut out a piece of parchment paper to lay on top of the steamer and protect the siopao from getting soggy? It’s not precise, but it is effective. Please don’t skip the parchment paper, lest the bottom of your siopao get wet and disintegratey. Which is a word.

Note that the siopao are placed seam-side-down to prevent explosion. Now, the meat is already cooked through, so we’re just getting the dough taken care of here. The side of the can says to bake at 400 for 8-10 minutes. Am I likely to get 400 degrees out of a pot of bubbly water? Nope. So I doubled the cook time. Steamed for about 20 minutes, checking for done-ness around the 17-minute mark. At no point prior to that should the lid be lifted! You’ll let the steam out, which defeats the steaming purpose.

Also note, the siopao will grow in the steamer. Like, alot.

They're alive! Aliiiiiiiiive!

They're alive! Aliiiiiiiiive!

So it’s important to place them in the steamer with enough space in between for wild dough expansion.

Twenty or so minutes later, they come out of the steamer CUTE as BUTTONS.



Precious little two-bite treats. The dough is soft and light and airy and fluffy. And the inside?

Meaty goodness.

Meaty goodness.

I certainly could have just left it there. But I was flying high on my success, and the siopao looked a little thirsty, so …

Time for dipping sauce! Sassy dipping sauce. I could pretend that I had some grand scheme of the sauce echoing the flavors of the siopao filling, but honestly I just threw it together with the ingredients I already had out on the counter.

Apricot preserves + soy sauce + red chili sauce = ugly as sin

Apricot preserves + soy sauce + red chili sauce = ugly as sin

Stirred together over medium-low heat, and that vile mass came together into a smooth, tangy, spicy concoction that is best summed up as Sassy. Sassy Sauce!

I wish I had a picture of the sauce on the steamed siopao. But I don’t, because I’m a dummy. Full disclosure: I wasn’t sure the steaming would work, so I baked some of the siopao.


Baking reduces lovely exotic siopao to mere kolache-dom. Which is fine enough, but all the joy of the fluffy dough texture is lost. It is, however, the only version of the siopao that I got a picture of with the sauce, so …

Be sure to use only abnormally pink fingers when dipping.

Be sure to use only abnormally pink fingers when dipping.

The sauce is much more lovely once it’s been cooked, no? And sassy!

So if you want to take a trip down my memory lane, I recommend this simple little recipe. It’s exotic without being intimidatingly strange. I think. I hope.

Hey, if I can do it, anyone can. Enjoy!


13 thoughts on “Cooking on the Cheap: Siopao with Sassy Sauce

  1. Alvin says:

    I just want to say… AWESOME!!!

  2. kittenz says:

    Was thinking: WHAT shall I make for dinner? HMMM, I have some frozen pulled pork-your recipe!-I could use that for tacos! Normally that’s a good idea. But now that I have this in my arsenal, I’m gonna make it instead. Just bop on over to the store for the biscuits. Will let you know about if they were a screaming success with my Anti-Weird Food hubby. I think I’ll be okay if I seduce him a glass of wine first. Hehe.

  3. kittenz says:

    Too bad I don’t feel like making your pork dumplings, too, except maybe with shrimp instead of sausage. Those really were a screaming success. Of course, wine AND friends were involved in that ambush.

  4. kittenz says:

    He ate THREE of ’em! Without the wine. And it only took 8 years. No, really only about an hour to whip them up. Thanks again for a good, cheap meal!

  5. ivoryhut says:

    What a wonderful surprise to see a siopao post here! Any time you need help identifying a mystery Filipino dish, feel free to holler. 🙂

  6. I happened over from PW where she is show-casing your lovely little creation! I love your pics and narrative. I may have to put ’em on my meal plan when I have some leftover pork roast!

  7. Jen says:

    This is the most wonderful discovery! I lived in Hawaii for awhile and they called something like this Mauna Pua, and I have always wanted more, but you certainly can’t get them in my mountain desert home and I had NO idea how to make them. Thank you! (and the PW for linking.)

  8. rebecca says:

    Yum! My college roommate (fresh off the boat) would brings loads of these lovelies frozen and super easy breakfast buns thanks to her mom. Well, hers were a little different since she is Vietnamese (they add in a quail egg or part of a big boiled egg plus something else I can’t remember). And, I never could get up the gumption to make them because of the dough recipe.

    Now that i know I can substitute cheapo biscuits, I will have to cook up a pork roast so I have leftover pork to make these. yum!

  9. kerensa says:

    yum yum! my fiance used to eat these growing up, at the chinese restaurant around the corner. he loved them but we have never found them on a menu since! we will definitely be trying them soon!

    (and thanks for using everyday store ingredients, it sure when you live in the burbs and don’t have access to the fancy stuff :o)

  10. amber says:

    my husband and i grew up in the philippines and these are a particular favorite of his. i’ll have to try out this recipe to surprise him! i never knew how to make these and this seems legitimately easy! my parents i’m sure would love them, too, since we’ve all spent huge chunks of our lives in the philippines and now we’re in the frozen wasteland of minnesota.

  11. howard says:

    Your english is bad. Are you a domestic helper married to a very old american. Info you are sharing is too messy.

  12. greensurfer555 says:

    Actually your eNglish is quite good….. i don’t know what the guy’s talking about. It’s idiomatic, and best of all, so funny. You’re the Rachel Ray of bumbling cooks, and for the chuckle value alone, I’ll read through your weird experimentations right to the end. I might even try it! i’ve been holding off tryin’ to cook this bec of the dough recipe, but wow, biscuits! THat’s ingenious. I bet no Filipino would have thought of that. I didn’t.

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