Dim Sum: Grilled Abalone and Meat Buns
This delicacy, which I was served at Urban China in Edmonton this past July, was very interesting from both a culinary and linguistic standpoint. The buns of stuffed, leavened dough, were described as being ‘grilled’ on the English menu but the penultimate character in the Chinese name means to ‘pan-fry’, which was clearly the case here. However, each bun was nearly the width of my palm so I rather suspect that they must have been steamed first.
The filling contained both abalone and pork and was very tasty. The abalone was diced very small, and there wasn’t a great deal of it (abalone is very expensive) but it did add a nice, sweetish marine flavor to the umami of the meat. There was, unfortunately, some cilantro added, which I dislike, but it was in small enough amount that it didn’t diminish my pleasure.
For those interested, the Chinese name has a bit of a poetic quality as the first and last characters are both pronounced ‘bao’, albeit with a fractional difference in tone. The first two characters specify Abalone, but can be read as ‘abalone fish’, indicating how the Chinese categorize this animal. Interestingly, the first character does not contain the ‘insect/bug radical’ as do most of the characters for various types of shell-fish.
I was a bit confused by the middle character (生, pronounced ‘shēng’). This usually indicates an item that is fresh or raw, and I first thought it indicated that fresh rather than dried abalone had been used except that the placement of the character was wrong. I have since learned that it forms a compound with the next character and that a生煎 bun is a particular specialty of Shanghai.
The very last character is curious and I could use some help… Many bread and dumpling delicacies are specified by the generic包character in their name. Here, the final character includes, you will note, 包as its right half, and the pronunciation of both is just about the same. The meaning of the 飽character, however, is ‘eat until full’ so I am not sure if the person who drafted the menu used the wrong character, or whether they were employing a well-known Chines pun. Can anybody shed some light on this?