Gua bao with sweet potato ‘belly’


Preparation info

  • Difficulty


  • Serves


Appears in

Jackfruit and Blue Ginger

Jackfruit and Blue Ginger

By Sasha Gill

Published 2019

  • About

Originally from Taiwan, gua bao is a popular street food whose fame has spread rapidly, thanks in part to Momofuku. Here’s my spin on it: a balancing act of succulent sweet potato ‘belly’, briny pickle and crunchy peanuts.

Use tamari in place of soy sauce, and double-check to make sure the vinegar is gluten-free.

Prep time: 30 minutes
Cooking time: 1 hour


  • ¾ cup (185 ml) lukewarm water
  • 2 tablespoons white sugar
  • 2 teaspoons active dried yeast
  • 2 cups (300 g) plain flour, plus extra for dusting
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ½ teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • Crushed peanuts, coriander (cilantro) and Sriracha sauce, to serve

Sweet potato ‘belly’

  • 3 sweet potatoes, peeled
  • 6 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 4 x 2.5 cm pieces ginger
  • 4 star anise
  • pinch of white pepper
  • ¼ teaspoon five spice powder
  • tablespoons rice wine or dry white wine
  • ¼ cup (60 ml) light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar


  • 1 small cucumber
  • 1 small carrot
  • ½ teaspoon sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar or apple cider vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon white sugar
  • 1 teaspoon light soy sauce


First make the bun dough. In a large bowl, combine the water, sugar and yeast and set aside until frothy, about 5 minutes. Sift in the flour, then add the salt, baking powder and oil. Knead until the dough comes together, then tip it out onto a countertop and knead for about 7 minutes, until it forms a smooth elastic ball. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with a damp tea towel and leave in a warm place to prove for about 1 hour, until it has doubled in size.

Meanwhile, prepare the sweet potato ‘belly’. Slice each sweet potato lengthwise into four, then cut each slice in half lengthwise, giving you eight flat wedges from each sweet potato. Put into a large saucepan with the other ingredients and ¼ cup (60 ml) water, then cover and cook over low heat for about 30 minutes, until very tender.

For the pickle, use a vegetable peeler to cut the cucumber and carrot into ribbons. Place in a bowl with the rest of the ingredients. Toss well, then chill until you are ready to eat.

When the bun dough has risen, knock it back with your fist, then tip out onto a well-floured countertop. Divide into eight equal portions, then roll out each one into an oval about 13 cm x 7.5 cm. Now you can either brush half of the oval with oil, or cut a square of baking paper to lay over half of it. Fold over the other half – the oil or paper should stop it from sticking. When all the buns are shaped, leave in a warm place, covered, for 20 minutes.

Line the base of your steamer basket with baking paper and set it over a pan of boiling water. Pop three or four buns into the steamer basket, spacing them well apart. Cover, lower the heat so the water is just simmering and steam for 15 minutes, or until springy. Briefly lift the lid every 5 minutes to let the heat escape, or the dough will rise too quickly and then collapse, giving you wrinkly buns.

To assemble your gua bao, fill a bun with a few wedges of sweet potato, some pickle, a sprinkle of sweet peanuts and coriander, and a drizzle of Sriracha. For extra flavour, dip the gua bao in a little of the sweet potato broth as you eat.