nikuman (with recipe)


on a bone-chilling cold day on your way home from work, what you need is “nikuman”. nikuman are steamed buns filled with meat. they’re very popular in japan, where you can buy them at convenience stores during the winter. there’ll be a steam cabinet near the cash register filled with different types of chuuka-man. chuuka means chinese, who invented them. thanks, china. anyway, your local convenience store will have nikuman (“niku” = meat), also called butaman (“buta” = pork), and kareiman (curry), pizaman (pizza), and anman (“an” = sweet red beans).

they’re all good, especially when it’s cold outside.

there are so many convenience stores in japan that they have to invent new flavours all the time to compete. i’d like to try the “super-spicy habanero pork/kimchee”man from family mart. but there’s no family mart in canada yet, so…

this was my second time trying to make nikuman. the first version was pretty sad: the bread was so hard, it was barely edible. at least the filling was good. i figured i should be able to make better nikuman this time — plus, i had a new recipe!

i used a bag of chinese “steamed bun flour” that i found at the asian market. and the recipe called for LARD…. yes– i was supposed to use lard. i had to buy the lard. the LAAAARD — pig fat! of course i just couldn’t reach for it at the supermarket. i just couldn’t stand the thought a stick of LARD happily sitting in my basket. so i grabbed some vegetable shortening instead. it’s not very good for you either, but at least it isn’t pig fat. all i needed was a tablespoon, but still… i was willing to do ANYTHING (almost) for the perfect nikuman.

yes, i’m contradicting myself by not wanting to put lard in the bread that i’m filling with pork anyway.

so there i was with a stick of vegetable shortening sitting in my kitchen for the first time. it turns out that using shortening is the secret to producing fluffy nikuman. here’s the recipe i used. it’s in japanese, so here’s the translation:

recipe: nikuman

bun (pastry)

  • flour 300g
  • sugar 40g
  • a pinch of salt
  • instant yeast 4g
  • baking powder 10g
  • milk 40ml
  • water 100ml
  • vegetable shortening 15g

meat filling (my version)

  • lean minced pork 150g
  • chinese cabbage about 5 leaves, cut into jullienne, steamed (microwaved), squeeze out all the water
  • garlic 2 cloves, minced
  • ginger about half the size of a golf ball, minced
  • shiitake mushroom 1/2 cup, sliced
  • dash sesame oil
  • dash soy sauce
  • dash oyster sauce
  • sugar 1TB
  • japanese cooking sake wine 1 TB
  • cornstarch 1/2 TB
  • s + p to taste, but don’t actually taste it (raw!)
  1. for the bun, mix all the powdered ingredient in a bowl and make a well in the centre
  2. pour the wet ingredients into the well and mix in thoroughly
  3. when they’re combined, add the shortening and knead until smooth
  4. rest at room temp. for 30 mins
  5. mix the filling and divide into 10 balls
  6. divide the dough into 10 balls and roll them out round.
  7. wrap them around the fillings, pinch at the top
  8. rest for 15 mins
  9. steam for 15 mins: add a splash of white vinegar to the water to prevent discoloration

(makes about 10 nikuman)

you eat nikuman by dipping them into a soy-vinegar sauce mixed with hot yellow mustard (like a hot english mustard). sooo— good.


meron pan


i really miss meron pan (“melon bread”). meron pan is a sweet pastry: cookie dough (like a sugar cookie) on top of bread dough. i used to buy meron pan at Family Mart (convenience stores) in japan. at one point, i was so addicted to them i was eating one for lunch almost every day. now i’m living in canada, where no one’s even heard of meron pan.

sushi is the best-known japanese food in canada, but i hardly ever ate it in japan. i like sushi but it was mostly for special occasions. once in a while my dad would bring some home after “settai” (business dinner) as an omiyage, but otherwise…

what i miss most is everyday japanese foods like meron pan. even T&T (the asian grocery store in vancouver, calgary, etc) doesn’t carry it. Nakamura Bakery in J-town (toronto) makes it, but i’m in saskatoon, so what can i do…

of course, i decided to make it myself. “don’t have it? you make it!” — that’s my motto. my first attempt (above) went relatively well. as is often the case, it was whole a lot tastier on the second day. the meron pan recipe called for a dash of melon essence, but i couldn’t find any so i had to substitute lemon essence. so i guess i ended up making lemon pan. hahaha!