Golden-Brown Toasted Siopao

A Toast to Toasted Siopao!

We are all creatures of habit. Sleep position we prefer, spending pattern that malls discover, study habits found wanting, driving style for Asians, blogs we read, and just about everything. Food is no exception. Certain kinds of food are supposed to look in a certain way and cooked in a specific manner. Yet, from time to time, the food we love — the food we know like the back of our palate, er, hand — is given a new twist. Who would have thought that “fried ice cream” would one day appear on the menu? How about Toasted Siopao?

We certainly did not expect this one. Siopao, you see, is steamed. Our all-time favorite siopao — Ma Mon Luk — is steamed. Our second-favorite siopao, and just about any other siopao that encountered our taste buds, found culinary transformation in a steamer. The soft, moist and white skin of a typical siopao is the product of heated water doing the healthy cooking.

It’s the same thing as a sauna or steam bath, which is supposed to be good to the human skin. Now, instead of spending a blissful 30 minutes inside the sauna, full of hissing steam (and naked people), try spending an hour or two under the scorching midday sun. What do you get? If you’re a human being, you’ll probably get a painful bout with sun burn. If you’re a siopao, you’ll get toasted. And that’s not a bad thing.

The tendency of lesser mortals, uhm, lesser siopaos, other than Ma Mon Luk is to get soggy, and the experience is pretty much like eating a pudding. Place a hot siopao in a paper or plastic bag and it sticks to the sides and, because it’s very soft, it gets easily squashed. Take a run-of-the-mill siopao out of the steamer, let it cool, and it hardens just like a bread — not much different from a toasted siopao. You don’t have those problems with a toasted siopao. And because not every siopao is a Ma Mon Luk siopao, you’ll steer clear of those ordinary siopao problems by trying the toasted siopao.

We wonder, when it comes to food, can we use the same standards to judge a racist? Come to think of it, is it racist for someone to prefer siopao to be white? Dark-colored siopao, just like a toasted siopao, should be segregated and forced to occupy a second-tier food class. This is absurd, of course, because in the world of siopao, it’s all a matter of personal taste and preference. Purists would want their siopao to be steamed and white. Others are willing to experiment and try the toasted siopao.

Strictly speaking, it’s wrong to call it toasted siopao. Siopao literally means “steamed bun”, so it’s a toasted “steamed bun”. It’s a food-based illustration of the English lesson on oxymoron. And so is “fried ice cream”. But it tastes good, right? Yes, it does. Which is why we’d go out on a limb and say that toasted siopao will be the next food-cart business craze.

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