Mantou Bread: the Chinese Steamed Bun 馒头


Post is also available in: Italian

Today I thought we could prepare delicious Mantou Bread (饅頭 or 馒头) or the Chinese Steamed Bun. It doesn’t take long, in a couple of hours, you will have delicious and soft loaves with a smooth and shiny looking. Inside, they are soft like a cloud. I advise you to prepare and eat them immediately, still hot. If you prepared them in advance or if you want to heat the advanced ones, steam them. You can eat them like normal bread, practically with everything. From Nutella, from raw ham. Ok, they are not really Chinese accompaniments but they are delicious anyway!

Mantou color is usually white, the recipe in fact provides the all purpose. But in this steamed bun recipe I used the flour type 1 (Italian flour classification), in other words the Whole Grain Flour, and they results yellowish. There are also those prepared with whole wheat flour. With Whole Grain Flour, they came very light, you can use the All Purpose. I also tried to prepare the Nai Won Bao which are the sweet version filled with cream. So Delicious!

What are Mantou?

They are small steamed buns typical of North China. They are prepared with wheat flour, yeast, water and salt. While in southern China they can also include milk and sugar. Wheat is the main cultivation in northern China, for this reason it’s a truly famous and popular food such as rice. The size of the loaves can vary from 4 centimeters, those usually served in restaurants to 15 cm those that workers consume during the lunch break. 

Mantou bread are considered as a meal or are eaten by dipping them in a sauce. They can also become a dessert by frying and sprinkling them with sweet condensed milk. It can be found pre-cooked or frozen. There is also a filled version but it is called Baozi.

The History of Chinese Buns

But, where do the Mantou Bread originate from? I must admit I have read the same story several times but each time the details were different! So frankly I am a little undecided, also because I can’t tell them all… let’s say that, the history of this steamed bread dates back to the period of the three kingdoms (the Shu, Wu and Wei from 220- 280 AD). When Chancellor Zhuge Liang, busy capturing a barbarian named Meng Huo, he found himself in front of the rushing Lushui River. To cross it, he would have to throw human heads into his waters to have the benevolence of the river god. 

Not wanting to sacrifice any of his soldiers, He ordered them to fill and shape some dough with meat and throw them in the river. Thanks to this expedient he deceived the river god and allowed them to safely cross the river. The details that are added are various, I read of barbarians who used itchcraft, of the poisoned river, of ships and caves, but in short the story is this. From there they took the name of Mantou or “barbarian heads”. In fact there are also other stories but this is the most recurrent.

5 from 1 vote

Mantou Bread: the Chinese Steamed Bun 馒头

"Small delicious sandwiches, with a soft and light inside like a cloud to eat hot alone or like classic bread …"
Servings 16 buns
Prep Time 35 mins
Cook Time 20 mins
Leavened 1 hr
Total Time 1 hr 55 mins


  • 300 g All Purpose Flour (I used the Whole Grain Flour) + 2 spoons for the pastry board
  • 3 g Instant Yeast
  • 24 g Caster Sugar can be omitted
  • 150 g Water
  • 1 pinch Salt about 1.5% of the dough


  • Heat the water to a temperature of 35 °C, dissolve the sugar (if you decide to use it). Once dissolved add the yeast, mix and leave to rest for 5 minutes.
  • Put the flour in a bowl and pour the water with the yeast slowly, mixing with the chopsticks, if you want to use the classic Chinese method. Or use the planetary mixer. In both cases, mix until a smooth, soft dough is obtained.
  • Cover the bowl and let the pasta rest for about 1 hour, until it has doubled in size.
  • Take some baking paper, get large discs like the steamer and drill holes with a scissor to let the steam pass through during cooking. If you use a steel steamer, tie a tea kitchen towel to the lid. So that the condensation doen't fall on the loaves during cooking.
  • Once the leavening is over, stir for 4-5 minutes until a smooth dough is obtained.
  • Divide the dough into two parts, cover one of the two with plastic wrap or a cloth. Knead and form a cylinder of dough about 3 cm wide. With a sharp knife, cut pieces wide 2 cm. Repeat the operation with the other pieces of pasta.
  • Place the loaves in the steamer and let them rest with the lid closed for 10 minutes if it's in summer, 20 if in winter.
  • Pour the water into the bottom. Cook over high heat for 20-25 minutes. Once passed, turn off and leave them covered for 5 minutes, once 5 minutes have passed you can serve them.


* approximate calorie calculation
Chef: recipesjourney
Calories: 70kcal
Course: Bread and Leavened
Cuisine: Chinese
Keyword: Vegan, Without Butter, Without Eggs
Difficulty: Easy


Serving: 30g | Calories: 70kcal (4%) | Carbohydrates: 15g (5%) | Protein: 2g (4%) | Fat: 0.2g
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