Melt-in-your-mouth braised pork belly balanced with fresh cilantro and crisp pickled carrots and daikon, all nestled in a fluffy bao bun!
An authentic Taiwanese gua bao includes a piece of tender braised pork belly, pickled mustard greens, cilantro and a mixture of coarse peanut powder and powdered sugar.
This recipe is a tweak of the traditional Taiwanese gua bao, and maintains all the essential elements, except that I replace the pickled mustard greens (not as easy to find or make yourself...) with pickled carrots and daikon. When you eat this gua bao, you enjoy many different flavors and textures all in one bite, the satisfaction is just indescribable!
Why You Should Try This Recipe
- You will learn how to make authentic Taiwanese gua bao at home that tastes better than most of what you can find elsewhere.
- It's often MUCH cheaper to make gua bao at home.
- You can prepare everything beforehand and simply heat up and assemble whenever you want to eat it.
Ingredients You'll Need
For Braised Pork Belly
- Pork belly - get skin-on pork belly. I usually get a big piece from my local butcher and cut into smaller pieces by myself.
- Spices - here I use star anis, cinnamon stick and bay leave, but it's totally optional. You can replace these with a bit of five spice powder or just omit it if you don't like the taste.
Pickled Carrots and Daikon
- Carrot - I find it easier to julienne a larger carrot than a very thin one. You can also use pre-shredded carrots from the store.
- Rice vinegar - I prefer the flavor of rice vinegar, but if you really can't find it, just replace it with white vinegar.
- Honey - adding honey adds another layer of flavor, you can replace it with sugar if you don't have honey.
- Gua bao bun - you can use either homemade or store bought. Check out my recipe for how to make delicious homemade bao buns.
- Roasted peanut - either salted or unsalted will work.
- Sweet chili sauce - I like to add some Taiwanese sweet chili sauce, which you can find in your local Asian grocery store, or you can just use whatever you have at home.
Step by Step Instructions
Make Braised Pork Belly
Step 1 - Brown both sides of the pork belly.
Step 2 - Add all the seasoning in the pot and then add water, scallion and the spices (if applicable).
Step 3 - Cook for 1.5 hour and then let it sit for another 30 minutes or overnight.
Step 4 - Reduce the liquid until it's sticky and able to coat the meat before serving.
Make Pickled Carrots and Daikon
Step 1 - Peel and julienne carrot and daikon.
Step 2 - Toss with salt and let it sit for 15-20 minutes until softened and water comes out.
Step 3 - Rinse and drain the carrots and daikon, mix it with sugar, honey and vinegar and store in a container. Let it sit for 30 minutes before serving.
Make Coarse Peanut Powder
Step 1 - Add roasted peanut in a blender (I make it with my Vitamix using a Vitamix dry grains container, but any high-powered blender/container should work here).
Step 2 - Pulse the blender until the peanuts become a coarse powder. Scrape down the blender whenever you see peanut powder sticking to the sides of the container.
Step 3 - Pour the peanut powder into a small bowl and add 2 tbsp of powdered sugar.
Step 4 - Mix well and taste to see if you want to add more sugar.
Assemble the Gua Bao
To assemble, simply place a handful of cilantro in the pocket of the bao bun, top with a piece of pork belly, sprinkle some peanut sugar mix on it (and sweet chili sauce if using), and stuff with pickled carrots and daikon according to taste.
Now you know how to make gua bao at home! I hope you all can give it a try and let me know how you like it.
Tips and Tricks
- Browning the pork belly before braising helps prevent the meat from falling apart during the long cooking time. I usually scoop out the fat that got rendered out and save it for making my scallion pancake or scallion shaobing.
- The pork belly tastes even better the next day, so if you have time, I would recommend making it the day before and let it sit in the fridge overnight before reducing the liquid and continue the final step before serving.
- The peanut powder used in gua bao (and many other Taiwanese street food) is different from powdered peanut butter. I like to make it with my Vitamix dry grains container, but if you don't have one, you can make it with any high-powered blender, just freeze the roasted peanuts for 15 minutes first before blending, and scrape down the blender between pulses.
- Homemade bao bun tastes the best in this recipe, but if you are too busy to make it yourself, you can find the frozen ones at the Asian grocery store.
- Sometimes I use pickled onions instead of pickled carrots and daikon.
Yes, select "sauté" function to brown the meat and then add the seasonings, water, spices and scallions. Switch to "manual" mode and set the cooking time for 45 minutes on high pressure. Once it's done cooking, let the pressure release naturally before open the lid. Use "sauté" function to reduce the liquid.
Dark soy sauce is mainly for the color, if you don't have it, you can replace it with half a tbsp of regular soy sauce.
The best way to heat up the buns is to steam the buns for about 10 minutes or until it heats through. If you prefer to microwave it, place the bun on a plate cover with a piece of damp paper towel. Microwave for 30 seconds and check to see if it needs to be microwaved longer. The problem with microwaving is that the bun becomes hard and stale once it cools, so this will only work well if you are eating it right away.
No, it's best to assemble it right before eating.
Don't Forget to Try
Gua Bao (Taiwanese Pork Belly Bao with Pickled Carrots and Daikon)
Braised Pork Belly
- 1½ lb skin on pork belly , cut into around ¾" thick and 3" wide pieces.
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 4 tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tbsp dark soy sauce , optional
- 2 tbsp Shoaxing wine , or rice cooking wine
- 1½-2 cup water, or until almost covers the meat.
- 1 star anise, optional
- 2 bay leaf, optional
- 2 inch cinnamon stick, optional
- 2 stalk scallion
Pickled Carrots and Daikon
- 6 oz carrots, or 1½ cup shredded carrots
- 6 oz daikon radish
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tbsp sugar
- 1 tbsp honey, can be replaced with sugar
- 4 tbsp rice vinegar
- 10 boa buns , homemade or store bought
- ½ cup roasted peanuts
- 2 tbsp powdered sugar , or more to taste
- Taiwanese sweet chili sauce, optional
Make Braised Pork Belly
- Heat a Dutch oven (I use a 4qt one) over medium heat and lightly brown both sides of the pork belly. Do it in 2 - 3 batches. Scoop out the oil rendered from the pork if you want to save it for other uses.
- Put all the meat back into the pot and then add sugar, soy sauce, dark soy sauce and Shoaxing wine, and let it boil for a few seconds before adding water.
- Add spices (if using) and scallion in the pot, cover and bring it to a boil.
- Turn the heat down to medium low to low, and maintain a gentle boil for 1.5 hours. Reposition and turn the meat 1 to 2 times so they can cooked evenly.
- After it's done cooking, turn off the heat and let it sit for another 30 minutes with the lid on. You can also let it sit overnight in the fridge once it cools completely.
- After 30 minutes (or before serving), turn the heat to medium or medium high and cook uncovered until the liquid becomes sticky and able to coat the meat. During cooking, reposition and turn the meat a few times to ensure even cooking.
Make Picked Carrots and Daikon
- Peel and julienne carrots and daikon. You will get about 3 cups total between the julienned carrots and daikon.
- Place carrots and daikon in a big bowl and toss it with salt. Let it sit for 20 minutes.
- After 20 minutes, rinse and drain the carrots and daikon, and then add sugar, honey and rice vinegar. Toss until you can't feel the sugar with your hands.
- You can serve the pickles right away, but it will taste better if you let it sit for 30 minutes in room temperature before serving.
- Put the pickle in a glass container and store in the fridge for up to one week.
Peanut Powder Mix
- Freeze the roasted peanuts for 15 minutes before processing. This is optional, but it will help prevent oil from coming out due to temperature increase from processing.
- Place the roasted peanuts in a blender, pulse until it becomes coarse powder. Scrape the blender a few times in between pulses.
- Pour the peanut powder into a small bowl and mix with powdered sugar. Taste and see if you want to add more sugar.
Assemble Gua Bao
- Steam the bao buns and cover it with a kitchen towel to keep warm.
- Open the pocket of the bao bun and stuff with a small handful of cilantro, a piece of pork belly, some of the peanut sugar mix (and sweet chili sauce if desire), and some pickled carrots and daikon and enjoy!