Both – Mantou and Spring rolls are two of these Chinese dishes that conquered the world and are hugely popular in all societies.
They were adopted, twisted and “modified” in almost all cuisines and sparked endless creative recipes and variations.
Now for this time – let’s take a moment and go back to the roots
“Mantou” actually refers to Chinese steamed buns and they go a long way back in Chinese history – as far back as to the Zhou Dynastie – 771 B.C.
According to Chinese Historians – Mantou was invented to represent human heads to worship gods – so to avoid killing innocent people for that purpose.
They killed animals instead and stuffed their meat into flour dough, shaped like a head and steamed them.
As such – mantou was born and has evolved over time into many popular varieties and usually eaten in place of rice – especially in wheat-growing areas in northern China.
Steamed or deep-fried – they are perfect not only to fill a hungry man’s stomach but ideal to soak up the delicious sauce of its accompanied meat or seafood dish.
Just imagine a tasty chilli crab or a Chinese braised pork belly without this delicious bun to dip and soak up the sauce.
Kids love them with sweet sticky condensed milk or any kind of sweet dipping sauce.
There is no boundary really to what one can do with this delicious bun. They can be used to make “sandwiches” and they can be filled with all kinds of sweet or savoury stuffings
And what do we know about Chinese spring rolls ?
Before there was the Spring roll as we know it today, people around the time of the Tang Dynasty prepared a pancake, placed it on a plate and added special ingredients such as fruits and vegetables on it. The plate then was decorated with different ingredients, depending on the wealth of the family and what they could afford – ranging from simple vegetables to sauces, eggs, meats etc
This was the “Spring Dish” done on the first day of spring and brought to relatives to celebrate the beginning of spring.
During different Dynasties, the preparation has been changed and refined and along the way turned into the Spring Roll, of which there are now different varieties from different areas in China.
In Chengdu for example – spring rolls are not fried. The wrappers are prepared simply with water, flour and salt. The wrappers are then filled with fresh vegetables and/or meat, onions, garlic etc. A dipping sauce is made with soy sauce, vinegar, mustard, peanuts and sesame seeds.
In Xiamen – the main ingredient for their fried spring rolls is bamboo shoots. Other ingredients are beansprouts, eggs, dried tofu, shrimp meat etc. The dried tofu has a special purpose, as it absorbs the moisture of the shrimp and fish etc and prevents the fried spring roll to become soggy.
Hong Kong Spring rolls are very rich and are very popular on dai pai dong’s (street-side stalls) – enjoyed with a cup of tea. The filling usually can consist of mushrooms, pork, rice noodles and bamboo shoots
So … next time you enjoy your spring rolls or mantou with your friends and family – you have surely something to talk about…