What Is Mantou?

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

Mantou is a type of round Chinese steamed bread. The plain white, or golden bun is considered a staple food among many people in Asia, and is widely available in area restaurants. The Chinese steamed bun is a very versatile food, and may be used as a brunch item, snack, or an accompaniment to a meal.

Tongs or chopsticks should be used to handle mantou.
Tongs or chopsticks should be used to handle mantou.

These Chinese breads are very simple in composition. They typically consist of flour, sugar, and yeast. Water is usually the only other ingredient required to make mantou. Other flavoring agents, such as condensed milk or oil, may be used if desired. Depending upon the recipe, baking soda may be called for as well.

After fresh mantou is cooked, it may be stored in the freezer and re-heated as desired. This makes it a popular food for children to eat as an after-school snack. Healthier versions of the bun may also be made by substituting wheat flour in the recipe. Doing this may result in a denser bun. Mantou may also be deep fried if a crispy bun is preferred.

When purchased at store, mantou typically is available in pre-cooked plastic packages. Each bun is separated by a partition. Such packages are often sold in the freezer section, with six buns to a pack. These can be easily steamed and heated, which usually takes ten to fifteen minutes, prior to eating. To enjoy the best quality buns, diners should make an effort to steam rather than bake them.

Prepared mantou should be removed from a steamer very carefully. Tongs, chopsticks, or other safe utensils should be used to prevent burns. Perfectly cooked mantou, such as the quality served in Asian restaurants, should be firm yet soft, with a spongy texture. If the product is dense or hard, it has been cooked too long. Denser forms of the food also serve as indications of an inferior product.

Some people prepare pre-cooked mantou in a microwave oven. This can be inadvisable, as the process often results in dry, hard buns. Though the steaming preparation takes longer, its results are largely considered superior.

Northern China is best known for these steamed buns. Wheat is more common than rice in the area, which leads residents to eat more flour-based foods rather than using rice as a staple. In Southern China, the buns are less of a staple item, and instead are commonly sold as a novelty street food.

Sara Schmidt
Sara Schmidt

A graduate of Southeast Missouri State University, Sara has a Master’s Degree in English, which she puts to use writing for wiseGEEK and several magazines, websites, and nonprofit organizations. She has published her own novella, and has other literary projects currently in progress. Sara’s varied interests have also led her to teach children in Spain, tutor college students, run CPR and first aid classes, and organize student retreats.

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