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Steamed Buns – Coconut & Char Siu for Lunar New Year

The other day I was in my old stamping ground and noted that Chinese Garden, the local Chinese restaurant, was still going strong. With its fabulous green tiled roof and red pillars, it was quite upmarket as far as Chinese restaurants went in the 1970’s. With a reception area, flocked wallpaper, linen table cloths, huge lazy Susans and nary an out of date calendar in sight, it was run by a family of Hong Kong rather than mainland Chinese. The food was Cantonese style. We always had Chicken and Almond and, Beef and Black Bean. Distinctly non Cantonese Sizzling Mongolian Lamb arrived at the table with a flourish on a regular basis. We never had Sweet and Sour Pork as that was a dish for the those who didn’t know any better. Whether we had spring rolls as an entrée is lost in the mists of time. Deep fried ice cream was for special occasions. Fortune cookies were unheard of.

My brother and I learned how to use chopsticks from a very young age and my Dad taught my brother’s friend (actor Grant Bowler) how to use them too, practicing picking up a box of matches whilst we waited for our meal. We were amazed that Grant didn’t know how to use chopsticks. We thought everyone knew how to use them. Though we certainly didn’t visit every week when I look back now, I realise how unusual it would have been for a limited income family to dine out on a semi regular basis. I asked Mr Tiffin only the other day if he went to restaurants when he was a kid. He looked at me like I was born with a silver chopstick in my mouth. My parents were obviously cutting edge.

A fourteen, a seven, a nine & lychees…
Fast forward a good few years and the world of Chinese food in Australia is quite different. We now know that ‘Chinese Food’ can be from any number of regions or provinces, each with their own specialties. None as far as I’m aware, fly the flag for Chop Suey. Nearby Sunnybank houses the biggest concentration of Chinese and East Asian communities in Queensland. More Chinese restaurants in one suburb than the rest of Brisbane combined. These are ‘the real’ restaurants. Where locals and ex-pats come to dine on black fungus and shredded jelly fish. There’s still plenty of special fried rice and lemon chicken on menus but the wave of Asian immigrants has vastly improved our knowledge of and exposure to unusual ingredients and new flavours.

Bright yellow & red Chinese New Year Lion Dance Puppet resting on the ground.

Happy New Year To The Monkeys

The recipe for steamed buns is inspired by recipes from Jamie Oliver and Charmaine Solomon. It is quick to prepare, easy to cook and generates gasps of ‘Wow’ when the lid of the steamer if removed at the table. Enjoy them as part of an Asian banquet to celebrate the Lunar New Year or as its more commonly known, Chinese New Year which is on the 8th February in 2016. I normally make steamed buns as a vegetarian accompaniment but you can add some cooked meat to the filling if you wish. You’ll need a bamboo steamer to successfully cook these. They are cheap and readily obtainable at Asian grocers as well as some large supermarkets and homewares store. I have also purchased a large one that had never been used, from an op (thrift) shop. The steamed buns are really only good when they are made though I have quickly reheated them with some success in the microwave the next day.

Steamed Coconut & Char Siu Buns

Steamed Buns in a bamboo steamer with accompaniments of soy & chilli sauce and a set of chopsticks


  • 1 x 400 – 450g tin light coconut milk
  • 2 x empty milk tins of self-raising flour (approx 500g total)
  • 3 tbsp char siu sauce (or Asian plum sauce)
  • 2 spring onions, finely sliced
  • 2 tbsp sesame seeds
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • Pinch white pepper
  • ½ cup cooked chicken shredded or cooked pork mince (optional)
  • 12-16 large paper cupcake/muffin case


  • Place flour, coconut milk and salt in a bowl and mix to form a soft dough
  • Tip dough onto a lightly floured bench and gently roll or press out an oblong approx 25cm x 40cm
  • Spread sauce evenly over dough and if using chicken or pork, place on top of sauce. Do not over fill.
  • Sprinkle 1 tsbp of sesame seeds and chopped spring onions over sauce and optional meat filling.
  • Roll oblong into a fat sausage with sauce mixture on the inside. Cut into 6 – 8 even chunks (if you have a larger steamer you can fit in 8 pieces, smaller 6 pieces)
  • Spray each muffin case with some spray and cook and place a bun into it, with the spiral scroll pattern showing. Place bun into a second paper case (there will be a double layer case per bun). Sprinkle top with remaining sesame seeds.
  • Place filled muffin cases into a large bamboo steamer, squashing in as necessary and place steamer lid on top.
  • Place steamer over a saucepan or wok with ½ litre boiling water and steam on a rolling boil for 10 minutes
  • Remove steamer from wok and carry to table with lid still on, to serve.
  • Buns will have puffed up as they steamed. Serve steamed buns with a soy/sriracha dipping sauce.

Makes – 6 – 8 large buns

Do you have any recollections of favourite family restaurant meals or dining destinations from when you were younger? Will you be giving these steamed buns a go?

10 comments… add one
  • Jan Rhoades January 30, 2016, 10:49 am

    Oh happy days. And the Eastern Trading shop where you and your brother discovered Haw Flakes. Still able to be purchased, but I’m sure no longer something mysterious.
    I still have the china ware (not melamine) that I bought from that shop. Any room in your new cupboards?

    • Fiona Ryan January 31, 2016, 10:05 am

      I have written a post about Haw Flakes but decided to go with this one instead. No comment on china ware until post re-packing.

  • the hipsterette January 30, 2016, 12:38 pm

    Nice post! I remember in the late 60s and early 70s that there were one or two Chinese takeaways in the Red Hill/Paddington area (where I grew up). Our ‘local’ was different from your experience but still takes me back to a time when there were so very few food choices available. We now have so many Asian cuisines to choose but Chinese remains a favourite with me!

    • Fiona Ryan January 31, 2016, 10:07 am

      Are either of them there still? You should write a post about it! (As an aside, I have subscribed to your blog but I haven’t seen any posts in my inbox. I’ll investigate now…)

  • Tandy | Lavender and Lime January 30, 2016, 2:39 pm

    Steamed buns are on my to do list. We ate out as kids for very special occasions at very upmarket restaurants 😀

  • Gretchen January 31, 2016, 6:30 am

    Childhood memories are so fun. We got to pick the restaurant for our birthday dinner which at an early age we discovered a love of fine dining places. My sister would judge a restaurant on the bathroom, her favorite having a love seat and television! We still dined out now an then otherwise, middle of the road restaurants. Luckily my parents didn’t fall into the typical American fast food category! These buns look great, I’ll have to give it a go. Our boys enjoy trying to eat with chopsticks and this is something they could handle!

    • Fiona Ryan January 31, 2016, 10:10 am

      I think they could help make these buns Gretchen though I suspect hands would be easier than chopsticks for these. I love the sound of that bathroom. I went to a 2 Michelin starred restaurant in the UK and was very impressed that they had a delightful 1960’s vanity that had mini cans of hairspray, breath freshener and real hand towels. So easily pleased!

  • Cassandra Altmann April 18, 2016, 12:49 pm

    These look amazing! I would have thought more ingredients were necessary.

    • Fiona Ryan April 18, 2016, 2:44 pm

      Yep – they’re pretty impressive for very little effort. If you make them, make sure you come back and let me know how you went.

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