There really is just something about siopao that makes it quintessentially Chinoy.
Siopao, otherwise known as shaobao (烧包), are hot buns that were introduced to the Philippines by a Cantonese immigrant named Ma Mon Luk in 1918. They are derived from the popular dim sum dish cha siu bao, which consists of a steamed white bun stuffed with a barbecue pork filling.
With humble origins tracing back to Ma Mon Luk’s small but popular restaurant during the earlier half of the 20th century, siopao eventually grew to be a significant symbol of Chinoy influences in Filipino cuisine. Now, siopao is served everywhere — you can buy it off the streets, pick it up at a convenience store, or even order it from some of the most popular dim sum restaurants in town.
Siopao is usually served in two classic flavors: asado and bola-bola. But we’re going to explore a world of creativity when it comes to siopao flavors. For all you steamed bun enthusiasts out there, here’s a list of fun and quirky siopao that you should definitely try:
1. Ube Pao
Everyone knows that what makes siopao so distinct is its fluffy snow-white exterior. That said, this innovative variation is undeniably no less eye-catching than its original form: Purple is the color of royalty, and it definitely gives siopao a more exquisite twist here.
Combining two Filipino classics together, Eng Bee Tin’s creative incorporation of ube into its dough blends in a subtle sweetness to complement the savory fillings of a siopao. Eng Bee Tin’s Ube Siopao comes in three different flavors: Asado, Bola-Bola, and Honey Spicy Roast Pork.
All are available on Eng Bee Tin’s online UBE Delivery Store for P220.00.
2. Lava Pao
Also popularly known as custard buns, lava paos are simply one of the most heavenly variations of siopao that there is! True to its name, this tasty treat oozes a luxurious custard that is hard to resist.
Those wanting to find ready-to-steam versions of this dessert can once again find themselves indulging in Eng Bee Tin. The store offers lava paos in two flavors: salted egg custard and chocolate custard.
Both are available for purchase on Eng Bee Tin’s online UBE Delivery Store for P280.00.
3. 7-Fresh Siopao
One of the best places to forage for siopao is the convenience store. Reliable and cheap, 7-Eleven is absolutely a must-try for those looking for quirky but affordable bites.
Aside from the classics, 7-Fresh Siopao are available in an abundance of flavors. In Luzon, these include Ube and Monggo, which are priced at P125.00 for five pieces; as well as Tuna Teriyaki, Tuna Pimiento, Spanish Style Mackerel, Garlic Chicken, and Garlic Chicken, which are priced at P125.00 for ten pieces.
For stores in Visayas and Mindanao, an interesting flavor to try is the Pork Sisig Siopao priced at P250.00 for ten pieces. A Mushroom Sisig variant is also available in Mindanao branches at P29.00 per piece.
4. Tuna Cheese Melt Siopao
You’ve heard of tuna melt sandwiches and tuna melt pie, but have you ever heard of tuna melt siopao?! This savory delight is the result of a collaboration between 7-Eleven and Vikings — yes, we’re talking about the buffet chain!
Rich in mouthwatering flavor, the Tuna Cheese Melt Siopao is a filling snack perfect for the Lenten season. It is available in 7-Eleven branches nationwide at P35.00 per piece.
5. Character Siopao
Sometimes, humanity makes food that is simply too cute to eat! Character buns are one such example, having been molded and decorated to look like adorable animal heads.
Depending on the store, each character bun may contain its own unique filling and design. For example, Lucky Belly Noodle House’s animal buns are shaped into pigs (P260 – 12 pieces), pandas (P330 – 15 pieces), chickens (P380 – 12 pieces), penguins (P380 – 12 pcs), and porcupines (P250 – 12 pieces), which respectively contain custard, chocolate, lotus paste, red bean, and taro.
Meanwhile, the Japanese-themed Kawaii Milk Tea also takes a stab at its own dim sum bun twist with a charming menu featuring Kitty Tuna, Hammy Bunny, PandaBola, CocoChoco, and Sweet Porky (sweet corn). All variants are available in boxes of six (P300) or boxes of twelve (P600).
6. Puto Pao
Puto pao may not actually be siopao, but the texture and flavor may come close enough! Anyway, it’s not like we can’t tell where the name’s inspiration comes from, right?
Condensed into a denser cupcake-sized form, this siopao-inspired dish can be defined as puto with filling, which is usually — but not always — savory. Puto Pao King, for instance, offers flavors like Chicken Asado with Salted Egg, Tuna Melt, and Ube Queso — flavors that either partially or completely fit perfectly with our list!
Interested in other siopao-like food? Check out our article on Chinese pastries right here!