THE Ori­gins

The World of Chinese - - Journey To The Best -

The story of steamed buns (包子, b1ozi) can pur­port­edly be traced back to the Three King­doms era (220 – 280), when Zhuge Liang, chan­cel­lor of the Shu state, led his army against Nan­man (lit­er­ally “south­ern bar­bar­ian”) forces and took back a load of cap­tives. When a river blocked their route home, a lo­cal war­lord sug­gested throw­ing 49 Nan­man heads into the wa­ter as a sac­ri­fice. Zhuge ap­par­ently balked at this grisly pro­posal, so or­dered his troops to sac­ri­fice some live­stock and use the meat to fill some head-sized buns. The river was seem­ingly be­calmed by the of­fer and buns be­came a thing— man­tou (蛮头) comes from “蛮” (bar­bar­ian) and “头” (head) Dur­ing the Song dy­nasty, baozi or bao came to mean filled buns, while man­tou specif­i­cally re­ferred to reg­u­lar buns, with “蛮头” evolv­ing into the ho­mo­phone “馒头.”

To­day’s baozi is no longer the size of a de­cap­i­tated head (and is usually a more ap­pe­tiz­ing propo­si­tion), but in­stead come in a va­ri­ety of com­pet­ing forms, aside from xi­ao­long­bao.

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