Nai Nai’s Baos

What is a Bao Bun and is it the same thing as a dumpling?

I have often pondered how various cultures have their own version of baked dough filled with aromatic spiced meat and vegetables. So I was excited to discover the recently published, Dumplings for Lili by Melissa Iwai. She was intrigued by how “little dough-filled packages of savory or sweet filling appear in so many cuisines around the world”. Her curiosity inspired her to write and illustrate this cheerful children’s story set in richly colorful kitchens of high-rise housing. Using food, Iwai explores the ideals of multicultural-community in America.

The story begins with Lili’s enthusiasm for baking Baos with her Nai Nai. Baos are soft swirly dough pillows stuffed with Asian spices and steamed in a traditional bamboo steamer basket. However, in Lily’s world, there is a problem for her Nai Nai. Much to Nai Nai’s dismay, she doesn’t have the much-needed cabbage to line her bamboo steamer! She asks Lili to go up to the 6th floor to borrow cabbage from Babcia. Babcia loans a large cabbage head to Lili only to suddenly discover that her potatoes have sprouted and she needs fresh ones to make her delicious pierogi.

With the elevator out of service, Lili and her dog Kiki, start an adventure traveling up and down the stairwell to locate needed ingredients for all the granmas living on different floors — Babcia’s pierogi, Teta’s fatayer, Abuela’s tamales, Nonna’s ravioli, Granma’s beef patties, and Nai Nai’s Baos! To celebrate the birth of a new baby, we learn that they are all baking for a community dumpling party!

The final pages of Dumplings for Lili have clear colorful step-by-step directions for making Nai Nai Baos and, of course, I had to try making them. I don’t have a bamboo steamer, but I used my wok with a vegetable steamer and parchment paper. It worked out very well. I used tofu instead of pork for the filling. My tofu Baos were so flavorful, especially with the tender cabbage all warm from the steamer!

– Happy baking with a New Year wish for a united America.  — Carole

Recommended interest range – 6 to 8 years (but fun for everyone!)

Watch Melissa Iwai make Nai Nai’s Bao Buns!

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