Hawaii’s Best Manapua Recipe

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A freshly home-made steamed manapua filled with onolicious charsiu.

Talk about one of the good ‘ol classics of Hawaii. Any local will recount their experience of eating a manapua. It could be from the Manapua man, Seven Eleven, a chop suey restaurant, a frozen pack, etc.

I remember going to Seven Eleven or Minute Stop as a middle schooler with a couple of loose change to buy a quick snack consisting of manapua and pork hash. It was a great snack to buy after the bus dropped me off in Makawao and to run to soccer practice for a quick energy refuel.

Who brought manapua

Like most recipes of Hawaii, the manapua was brought to Hawaii in the 19th century of the plantation era. It was brought by the Chinese immigrants known as char siu bao.

Char siu bao is white fluffy yet dense bread that has been steamed and filled with either a savory or sweet filling of pork. 

What does manapua mean

As the manapua became popular amongst the plantation workers, it started to be sold commonly throughout the islands.

The Hawaiians at first named it as Mea ‘Ono Pua’a, which meant “delicious pork thing.” Mea (thing) . ‘Ono (delicious). Pua’a (pig). Later on it was renamed as manapua.

What’s inside manapua

Almost any filling you can imagine! Some fillings I’ve seen have curry, vegan tofu, azuki beans, shoyu chicken, and of course the classic char siu. 

How is manapua made

There are two ways to make manapua; steamed or baked.The most common in Hawaii is the steamed manapua. I have also seen the baked version of the manapua and I believe that is also very ‘ono! 

Baked manapua if you are wanting to eat a crunchy bread with a savory filling or fluffy and chewy steamed bun.

Baking powder and yeast in manapua

Yes this particular dough is different from the usual. This is a Chinese based recipe that is specific for bao. Baking powder supplements the yeast with CO2 and the sugar supplements with oxygen. 

Kneading the dough

Kneading the dough is pretty simple and a very important part of the recipe. With a vertical arm press down with your palm and bring it forward and with the other arm, bring it back.

Keep kneading until the dough has become smooth, waxy, soft, and bouncy. Divide the dough into 60-65g pieces. If you have extra, divide it amongst the other pieces. Then cover it with a plastic wrap to prevent it from air drying.

Filling the manapua

Spread some flour on your working surface and place one piece of the divided dough on it. Press the piece into a flat disc with the outer edges thin and in the middle thick.

Stuff the dough with the manapua filling (be sure the filling is at room temperature) and close it on the top while swirling and pinching it. If there is excess dough, pinch it off and it’ll look like a bald head. Set aside and repeat with the other pieces.

To have a smoother looking sphere, use a rolling pin. Flatten a piece of dough. Roll it with a  rolling pin, fold, and roll. Repeat for 4-5 times then shape it into a circular shape. 

Rest the dough

After the manapua has been formed and stuffed, it needs to be “fermented” before steaming it. Let it first rest at room temperature for 15-20 minutes, covered.

It’ll swell in size and have a smoother surface. Secondly, it will have a light aroma of liquor. And thirdly if you lightly touch the edge of the bun it’ll feel loose.

How do you steam manapua

Using a steamer basket or bamboo steamer, place a piece of parchment paper on the bottom. In a pot large enough to hold the steamer, boil the water and place the steamer above it. Steam the buns for 7-8 minutes and they will be ready to eat right away.

How do you bake manapua

Follow the instructions up to resting the dough. Preheat the oven to 375° F. Use egg wash to spread over the dough and bake it for 15-20 minutes or until it is golden brown.

Can you freeze manapua

Absolutely! Freezing manapua is easy. After the dough has rested, line a baking sheet with parchment paper. 

Place the made manapuas on the paper, cover with plastic wrap, and pop them in the freezer to freeze overnight. After it has frozen, you can keep them in a gallon sized Ziploc bag. To use the frozen manapua, simply steam it for 7-8 minutes and the manapua is ready to eat!

Can you Instant Pot Charsiu

Yes you can and I love this method! Using the Instant Pot has saved me so much time and hassle. All you need to do is:

  • Marinate the pork butt in the char siu sauce overnight
  • Add it to the Instant Pot and cover with the lid
  • Set it on manual high pressure for 45 minutes and allow 10 minutes natural release before pressing the quick release

Video Tutorial

*The recipe has been UPDATED! It has now evolved to be even more onolicious!

Check out this video to help you gain more insight on how to make Manapua. Also, subscribe to my YouTube to help support me so I can continue making more of these contents. Mahalo!

Hawaii’s Best Manapua

This manapua recipe is a local favorite of Hawaii. Steamed or baked manapua filled with the savory and sweet classic char siu.
Prep Time 1 hr
Cook Time 8 mins
Total Time 1 hr 8 mins
Course Appetizer, Main Course, Side Dish
Cuisine Chinese, Hawaiian
Servings 12 buns

Equipment

  • Instant Pot

Ingredients
  

Char Siu:

  • 2.5 lb pork butt/shoulder
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup shoyu (soy sauce)
  • 1/2 tsp five spice
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp liquor (rice wine)
  • 1 clove crushed garlic
  • 1 tbsp oyster sauce

Filling:

  • 1/2 cup leftover juices from char siu
  • 3 tsp cold water
  • 2 tsp cornstarch
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2-3 drops red food coloring (optional)

Manapua Dough:

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 tsp instant yeast
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 1 cup warm water

Instructions
 

Char Siu:

  • In a large bowl combine the sugar, shoyu, oyster sauce, five spice, salt, liquor, crushed garlic, and red food coloring. Mix until the sugar has dissolved.
  • Cut the pork into large chunks. Add it to a large ziploc bag and let it marinate in the sauce overnight.
  • Either cook the pork in a crockpot for 6 hours on high or in the Instant Pot on manual high for 45 minutes. Allow 10 minutes of natural release before pressing the quick release.
  • Shred the meat. Save 1/2 cup of the leftover char siu juices.

Char Siu Filling:

  • Combine the cold water and cornstarch. In a small pot add the char siu juices and corn starch.
  • Heat until the filling has thickened then add in the char siu and mix to combine.
  • Set aside the char siu filling to let it cool down to room temperature.

Dough:

  • In a large bowl, add in the flour. Create a small well in the flour and add in yeast, baking powder, and sugar.
  • Slowly add in the water while stirring it with a wooden spoon or hand. Transfer the dough to a working surface with flour sprinkled on.
  • With a vertical arm press down with your palm and bring it forward and with the other arm, bring it back. Sprinkle on more flour until the dough can slightly stick. Keep kneading until the dough has become smooth, waxy, soft, and bouncy. Divide the dough into 60-65g pieces. If you have extra, divide it amongst the other pieces. Then cover it with a plastic wrap to prevent it from air drying.
  • With one divided piece, press it into a flat disc with the outer edges thin and in the middle thick.
  • Stuff the dough with the manapua filling (be sure the filling is at room temperature) and close it on the top while swirling and pinching it. If there is excess dough, pinch it off and it’ll look like a bald head. Set aside and repeat with the other pieces.
  • ***Optional: To have a smoother looking sphere, use a rolling pin. Flatten a piece of dough. Roll it with a  rolling pin, fold, and roll. Repeat for 4-5 times then shape it into a circular shape.

Steamed:

  • Line a steamer with parchment paper and place the manapua on it. Cover and let it rest for 15-20 minutes.
  • In the meantime, boil water in a pot large enough to hold the steamer basket. Place the covered steamer over the pot and let it steam for 7-8 minutes. Serve and enjoy!

Baked:

  • Follow the instructions up to resting the dough.
  • Preheat the oven to 375° F. Use egg wash to spread over the dough and bake it for 15-20 minutes or until it is golden brown. Enjoy!
Keyword baked, buns, char siu, chewy, fluffy, manapua, savory, steamed, sweet

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