Feb 8
2011
My first meal in Japan was nothing fancy, yet it still remains one of my fondest memories of my first time living in Japan, as it was one of the moments where I caught a glimpse of how much I was going to love the country.

nikuman japanese steamed pork buns

I remember landing at Narita Airport for the first time.  It was a hot and humid afternoon in late September, 2002.  As we got closer, I started being able to see rice fields, neatly arranged across the landscape, like a handmade quilt.  As we touched down on the runway, the air seemed to shimmer from the heat and humidity.  After making it through immigration and customs, we bought train tickets and traveled to Shinjuku eki, one of the busiest train stations in the world, where we met up with a fellow foreigner who would be taking us to our new apartment.  I remember watching the lights of the city whiz by on the train, feeling excited and overwhelmed at the same time.  At one point when we had to change trains, I almost missed getting on the train, as I was unaccustomed to the crush of people moving quickly in and out of the doors.  When we finally reached our final stop, Fujigaoka eki, just outside of Tokyo on the outskirts of Yokohama, I was exhausted.  We got off the train and began the 15-minute walk to our new apartment.  Right before we reached our new home, we stopped at a convenience store to pick up some food so we would have something to eat until we could get to a grocery store in the morning.  Mr. Fuji, who had lived in Japan several times before, grabbed a couple of things he thought I might enjoy, and then we finished the walk to the apartment, and said goodbye to our guide, who handed us our keys and wished us good luck.

apartment in Yokohama, Japan 2002

We opened the door to find a small modest apartment, roughly 700 square feet in size, with 2 rooms, a small kitchen/dining area, a closet that housed the toilet, and a small room that contained a sink and mirror, a washing machine, and a shower and ofuro (Japanese style bath).  We set our luggage down, then sat at our small kitchen table, and opened up the bag from the convenience store.  Inside the bag were two onigiri, Japanese rice balls wrapped in seaweed, and two nikuman, Japanese steamed pork buns—simple food, but total comfort food.  I was in heaven.  Even now, when I take a bite of onigiri or nikuman, I’m transported back to that first day in Japan, sitting tired and happy at our little kitchen table.  Since that first meal, I have never tired of those two items, and the best part is that both are easy to make at home!  I’ve written about onigiri before, but have neglected nikuman.  This past Sunday I made some nikuman, and when someone on Twitter asked where she could find the recipe, I replied that it was in my head, but would write it up and put it here on LFM.  So here I am, finally sharing nikuman with you!

Nikuman is easy to make.  You start by making a simple dough from flour, baking powder, sugar and milk.  Then you make the filling.

making nikuman

The hardest part is actually assembling the buns, as the traditional “old-school” style dough sometimes has a mind of its own and likes to continually retract instead of staying where you want it to.  Because of this, resting the dough after kneading it is very important, as it helps relax the gluten strands in the dough, making it easier to work with.

ManPans 12-inch Wok Steamer Set

Once the buns are assembled, you pop them in a steamer for 15 minutes and they’re done! (I use my ManPans 12-inch wok/steamer set—works perfectly!)   The dough will have morphed in a soft tender bread, and when you break a bun open, steam will escape, along with the tantalizing aroma of seasoned pork, and you won’t be able to resist taking a bite!

steamed nikuman, japanese pork buns

Print This Recipe

Nikuman

Makes 8 buns

For the dough:
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup warm milk

For the filling:
4 ounces ground pork
1/3 onion, finely chopped
1.5 ounces boiled bamboo shoots, finely chopped
2 teaspoons finely grated fresh ginger
2 teaspoons chili garlic sauce
2 teaspoons soy sauce
2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 tablespoon rice vinegar, for cooking (optional)

1. Make the dough: Sift the flour and baking powder together in a large bowl. Whisk the sugar into the flour. Pour the warm milk into the flour gradually, while stirring the flour with a wooden spoon, or your hand. Knead the dough until it becomes soft and smooth, about 15 minutes. Cover the dough with a piece of plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes. Divide the dough into 8 balls. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

2. Make the filling: Put the ground pork, onion, bamboo shoots, and ginger into a large bowl. Add the chili garlic sauce, soy sauce, sugar, and sesame oil. Mix the ingredients together until well incorporated and the meat becomes sticky.

3. Assemble the buns: Take a ball of dough and flatten it between your hands. Then, using a rolling pin, roll the dough out into a circle that is about 5 to 5 1/2 inches in diameter. Using your fingers, pinch the edges of the dough to make them thinner. Divide the meat mixture into 8 balls. Place one ball in the center of the dough and wrap it by bringing the dough up around the meat to the top, forming little pleats with the excess tough, then slightly twisting the dough to close it, then pinching it firmly to join it.  Put the bun on a small square of parchment or wax paper. Repeat the process with the rest of the dough and meat.

4. Cook the buns: Put the water in the steamer base, along with 1 tablespoon of rice vinegar (optional). The vinegar will create a whiter looking buns. Preheat the steamer on high heat until it starts steaming. Place the buns on their squares of parchment/wax paper in the steamer and cover. Steam for 15 minutes on high heat. Remove from the heat and serve.

{ 57 comments… read them below or add one }

Cookin' Canuck February 8, 2011 at 9:55 am

What a wonderful introduction to Japan for you, Rachael! These really do look like comfort food – warm, soft, and full of flavors. I truly can’t wait to try them.

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Tina @ Squirrel Acorns February 8, 2011 at 10:09 am

I can’t wait to try making these! Yum!

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Alayna @ Thyme Bombe February 8, 2011 at 10:10 am

These look excellent, very comforting.

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Caroline February 8, 2011 at 10:18 am

I love steamed buns like these! Whenever my family goes to get Chinese dim sum, we order a rediculous number of buns like these, just because it’s our absolute favorite! I’ve made my version of something similar a few times, but I cannot for the life of me get the pretty crimp on the top!

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Hannah February 8, 2011 at 11:19 am

To tell the truth, your post brought tears to my eyes. You really brought the experience to life, and I felt like I was back in Japan for the first time, too. I miss it so much…

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 2:48 pm

@Hannah, Aaah Hannah! Thank you so much! Sometimes I feel inadequate when it comes to describing my experiences and feelings regarding my time in Japan, so I always love it when it seems maybe I’ve gotten some of it right!

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Lindsey @ Lindselicious February 8, 2011 at 11:58 am

You make it look so easy I want to try! My friend and I were just talking about how we used to make a baked version with pilsbury bisquits.

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IslandEAT February 8, 2011 at 1:09 pm

Rachael, I’ve always enjoyed these while dining out but never had the courage to try at home – until now, with your clear, explicit directions. Thanks for the simple recipe.

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Tamakikat February 8, 2011 at 1:22 pm

Good morning LFM.

Inspired by your post I made ‘anman’ this morning for the 1st time.

They were a easy and delicious way to start the day.

Thanks for the recipe for the dough:)

TK

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 2:49 pm

@Tamakikat, Wahoo!!! :)

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Heather (Heather's Dish) February 8, 2011 at 2:20 pm

this looks so amazingly easy! i love that the dough is so simple to make…i’ve got to try my hand at these :)

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Rachael @ Tokyo Terrace February 8, 2011 at 4:11 pm

I LOVE Nikuman! Today is a perfect day for this recipe- it snowed a little this morning and it is generally cold and gloomy. This is exactly the thing to take the edge off the cold and add a little comfort. Might try this for dinner if there’s time! Also, loved reading about your Tokyo memories. Very fun and easy for me to relate to!

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Goldie February 8, 2011 at 4:43 pm

I LOVE these! I grab one each time I go to the Japanese market. Thanks for the recipe. Can’t wait to try them at home.

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Christine February 8, 2011 at 5:04 pm

Love this! First time I’ve heard about Japanese steamed buns. I love how neat you pleat the top. :)

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Kelly February 8, 2011 at 6:20 pm

What a great first meal in Japan. I envy you. Many years ago, on my first night in Japan, after a similar journey to our new home, my husband’s company took us out for Kaiseki. I was ready to get back on the plane! Luckily for my husband, the next day he introduced me to Nikuman and Curry Udon and I knew that life would be okay! I will have to try making these at home now. Thanks for the recipe.

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 2:50 pm

@Kelly, LOL, a kaiseki dinner would definitely be a difficult way to start your time in Japan! It’s already so different from our own Western culture, and then to add the kaiseki experience on top of that! Whew! Although I love kaiseki, I’m grateful that it wasn’t my first meal in Japan!

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Donna from Yumma Yumma February 8, 2011 at 8:22 pm

These look really yummy. My husband and I recently had some pork belly steamed buns at a cool restaurant in DC. We are also starting to plan a trip to Japan hopefully within the next year (whenever we’ve saved enough money). Do you have any suggestions or advice about visiting Japan?

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 2:51 pm

@Donna from Yumma Yumma, Hi Donna, Thank you! How exciting! I hope you’re able to go soon! I’ would be happy to answer any questions you might have about your trip! Please email me: rachael (at) lafujimama (dot) com!

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Kim February 8, 2011 at 8:58 pm

This totally takes me back to my childhood – the Vietnamese have our own version of these pork buns, and my job when I was little was to cut little wax squares for my mom so she could place them on the bottom of the buns.:-)

Haven’t thought about that in YEARS!!!!

[K]

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 2:52 pm

@Kim, Oooooh, when are you going to teach me to make the Vietnamese pork buns? YUM!!!!!!

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Kayla February 9, 2011 at 1:27 am

These look exactly like the ones sold in Japan:) There’s something really comforting about eating nikuman. I’ll always have it in winter when I am visiting my relatives in Japan. Thanks for sharing the recipe

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Gaby February 9, 2011 at 8:26 am

ummm these pretty much just rocked my world!! omg. most amazing way to start your experience in Japan! I’m dying to go!!

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 2:54 pm

@Gaby, I’m dying for you to go and experience Japan! You will love it, I just know it! If you need a guide, let me know. ;)

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Tina @ Squirrel Acorns February 9, 2011 at 8:30 am

Maybe a dumb question, but what exactly are boiled bamboo shoots? Can I buy them at a regular store? No Asian markets around here. :(

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 2:56 pm

@Tina @ Squirrel Acorns, Hi Tina, Boiled bamboo shoots come in a couple of different forms, but usually are canned. I can find them in any regular supermarket here in California and other states that I’ve lived in as well. They are often located with other “Asian” ingredients, like water chestnuts and soy sauce. Typically the kind available in a regular market comes canned in rectangular strips. Hope that helps!

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Kelly @ Evil Shenanigans February 9, 2011 at 1:22 pm

I make Chinese steamed buns all the time, and we love them. BBQ pork is our favorite filling for those, but red bean paste is also good at the Din Sum places. Your Japanese version sounds lovely! I will have to give it a try!

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Georgia @ The Comfort of Cooking February 9, 2011 at 3:54 pm

What an interesting and amazing journey to take with your husband toward your new life in Japan. I’m sure you have a lot more stories where these came from! Thanks for sharing, Rachael. This dish looks just delicious, and like a perfect nod to your Japanese past. Thanks for sharing!

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Jenni February 9, 2011 at 5:11 pm

these sound completely wonderful. i’ve never had anything like these dumplings before and would love to try making them. however, i don’t have one of those handy steamers–your manpans–i think you called them. what do you suggest using and how do i use the substitute without getting the dumplings soggy? thanks for your time and your wonderful ideas and recipes.

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 3:00 pm

@Jenni, Steamers are very easy to make yourself out of things you probably have around the house already! Here’s a great post describing some ways to do this: http://www.howtodothings.com/home-garden/how-to-make-steamers

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Lauren from Lauren's Latest February 10, 2011 at 1:40 pm

I love reading about all your stories from when you lived in Japan!

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Martha February 10, 2011 at 2:11 pm

I moved to Japan in 2002 also. You made me homesick! LOVE nikuman!!!

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diana February 10, 2011 at 3:37 pm

these look delicious, i am going to try them this weekend! a quick question, do you not have to cook the meat filling first? is 15 minutes steaming enough to cook everything?

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 3:03 pm

@diana, Hi Diana, Yes, 15 minutes is enough time to cook everything, so the filling goes into the dough raw! Those buns will come out piping hot all the way through after those 15 minutes!

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Stella February 10, 2011 at 6:13 pm

Reading your post has made me overwhelmingly nostalgic for Japan. I LIVED off of food from Seven or am/pm while a student in Shinjuku. Oh, for some 7-11 yakisoba pan!

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Joy February 10, 2011 at 7:08 pm

That looks so good. I love learning about the different types of steam buns out there.

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Ethan February 10, 2011 at 10:16 pm

I overdosed on all these pork bun related in Vancouver last year and yet I still couldn’t get enough! Pork buns for breakfast are brilliant! Thanks for your taking us on a trip down memory lane. I hope to get to Japan one of these days, but in the meantime, it didn’t even occur to me I could make these on my own.
Forget counting sheep tonight, i’m counting pork buns :)

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Darla @ Bakingdom February 11, 2011 at 4:12 am

These are going to be a huge hit with my family…this is exactly what we love! Thanks!

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Mardi@eatlivetravelwrite February 11, 2011 at 5:39 am

I need to try steamed buns soon!

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Alyson February 12, 2011 at 4:31 pm

Oh man, that’s very exciting. Nikuman are something I always associate as one of the first foods I tried in Japan too. I loved the curry ones the best. I’m very excited to try this out!

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Tina @ Squirrel Acorns February 13, 2011 at 12:14 pm

I made these last night and they were awesome! I made the dough in my stand mixer (no way was I kneading dough by hand for 15 minutes!). However, 2/3 cup of milk was not enough liquid at all. I ended up adding almost an entire additional cup of warm water? Not sure if that’s a recipe typo, or maybe just because of different technique? In any case, the buns turned out great, and now I can’t wait to try them with some other fillings. We used our wok to cook them in conjunction with some bamboo steamer baskets. We re-heated some today, in the same manner, and they were still excellent. This time, we put down some parchment paper underneath each bun, and the prevented them from sticking to the bamboo steamer. The filling was great. My 8yo liked them, but found them a little bit spicy, so I might cut back on the chili-garlic paste for him. I thought they were fine, spice-wise.

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 13, 2011 at 2:44 pm

@Tina @ Squirrel Acorns, Hi Tina,

I’m so glad that you liked them! No, the 2/3 cup milk measurement is correct. This is a very stiff dough, and as such, would require more moisture to be able to use a mixture. You would have to hand knead to make the dough with the moisture amount noted. Although it is easier to add more milk, and use a mixer for the kneading/mixing, I chose to go with the more traditional measurements and methods for my first steamed bun post! You will see that the 2nd steamed bun post I put up this week, (http://www.lafujimama.com/2011/02/steamed-peanut-butter-and-jelly-buns/) has a higher liquid to dry ingredients ratio, and thus much easier to work with!

I did note, in step 3, that you should put the buns on squares of parchment/wax paper. I have, however, gone back and added a reminder of this in step 4, just to clarify!

As far as the spice level goes, this is always a hard thing to control. Depending on the brand you are using, chili-garlic paste can vary in heat intensity! I tried to err on the side of caution in my measurements, as one of my children is very sensitive to spice heat, but it’s always hard to account for brand and palate differences!

Thank you so much for coming back and telling me about your nikuman adventures!!

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Tina @ Squirrel Acorns February 13, 2011 at 3:51 pm

@Fuji Mama (Rachael), They were super-awesome Rachael. Thanks so much for posting the recipe as I never would have considered making them without you! So, the dryness was a technique issue. I was wondering. It worked great with the extra water but I’ll check out the recipe for the PB&J buns. Hubby wants some with red bean paste! (And I did put them on parchment paper in step 3, I just didn’t take it a step further and think to move the parchment paper WITH the buns to the steamer, LOL. I was feeling rushed at the time, that will be my excuse.) We also made your shrimp gyoza from last week, and they were excellent as well!

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Julie February 22, 2011 at 8:37 pm

I’m going to make these now. Since I am cooking with a newborn in the house, sometimes I have to cook in stages/parts. At which point can I stop and refrigerate? After the dough phase? After assembling the buns? Help!
BTW – Thanks for all the Japanese recipes. I’m living in Japan now and love to replicate my favorites. How did you learn to cook all of these Japanese delicacies? Did you take classes while you were here or did you just try and conquer?
Thanks!

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Hatsuho (Hiragana Mama) February 27, 2011 at 6:17 am

I made these yesterday and they were amazing! They were much easier to make than I expected and tasted almost as good as the ones I’ve had in Japan. I ate SIX in one day. YUM. They were the perfect treat for a cold, snowed-in day. Thank you!

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Debi (Table Talk) March 3, 2011 at 8:31 am

My daughters love to cook in the kitchen with me. I know they enjoy eating these, so making them is on our list for upcoming projects together!

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anon June 6, 2011 at 8:23 am

YOu took this recipe straight from here:
http://www.houseofjapan.com/cuisine/nikuman-recipe
couldn’t you just acknowledge the source/…..you did not come off with this recipe yourself!

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Fuji Mama June 6, 2011 at 8:56 am

@anon, I can see why you would think that, but I always credit my sources. This is the way I’ve been making nikuman since living in Japan. The recipe was originally shared with me by a friend when I last lived in Japan, and I have no idea where she got the recipe from.

As far as the recipe you referenced goes, my filling is completely different. I’m sorry that you think I copied, but wish you had done your homework before accusing.

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Yuri June 6, 2011 at 9:22 am

@anon, I really hope u own the website houseofjapan.com because if not I think you have a crush on Rachael ;)

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Arudhi@Aboxofkitchen August 22, 2011 at 8:27 am

Your nikuman looks gorgeous yet the recipe for the buns looks very simple! Thanks for sharing!
Your kitchen in that picture looks really nice and it`s much bigger than mine here. And it`s my biggest dream to have a dining table at home :D

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Natalie September 27, 2011 at 4:16 pm

Just wanted to leave you a note to say that I made these for our dinner tonight and they were DELICIOUS!! Definitely a recipe we will make again and again! Thank you :)

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Spirit November 11, 2011 at 5:52 pm

OMG! thank you so much for a simpler recipe of these steamed buns! Been wanting to make some ever since I tried one at a asian resturant, but the recipes have been so crazy with the ingedients[sp?] to the point that it was gonna take about 2 hours or more just to make the dough for the steamed buns. the filling I was gonna create myself since I love experimenting. This is gonna be like probably the best steamed buns recipe ever!

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Jen November 30, 2011 at 12:40 pm

I made these with my 6 yr old daughter tonight and everyone loved them. I was inspired by other recipes on your website to make a crab salad on avocado starter and that went over well, too. Thanks, Fuji Mama!

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Dave February 27, 2012 at 5:30 pm

Do you cook the pork first or does it cook in the steamer?

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Fuji Mama (Rachael) February 28, 2012 at 9:27 am

@Dave — The pork cooks in the steamer, no pre-cooking necessary!

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Mr.Tickles March 21, 2013 at 11:33 am

Can you use ground chicken? Or something non-meat like eggplant? Or is it not firm enough?

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Museismymuse July 29, 2013 at 1:05 pm

This recipe is amazing! Made them about half hour ago and they are delicious, tasty, cheap ingredients (everything can be bought from a local supermarket) and most of all, taste like the ones from Japan!! I miss you Japan, I will return to you one day, but for now, I will eat these great Niku-man and remind myself how awesome you are!

Thanks for this recipe, my friends who went with us to Japan are going to have a lovely little reminder of this beautiful, special place in the world.

Domo arigato gozaimasu xx

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Rick October 5, 2013 at 1:09 pm

Not a problem. Just have a question about the steamed meat bun recipee for Japanese Nikuman. I made it using your recipee but found it Lacking something within the meat mixture. I would like to know the ORIGINAL JAPANESE NIKUMAN RECIPEE FOR THE MEAT MIXTURE THAT YOU GET IN THE STORES IN JAPAN. CAN YOU PLEASE HELP ME MAKE THE RECIPEE RIGHT???? One gishimasu.

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