Steam and Water Buns (Qi Shui Bao)- a unique snack in Wuhan

Qi shui bao (Steam and Water buns)

Steam and Water Buns, or “Qi Shui Bao (汽水包)” in Chinese, are a unique and traditional snack originating from Wuhan, Hubei Province. What sets these buns apart is their distinctive cooking method and flavor profile. Unlike typical steamed buns, Qishui Bao are pan-fried in a skillet with a small amount of water, imparting them with a special texture and taste. During the cooking process, the buns are not directly exposed to steam like traditional steamed buns. Instead, they are heated through the water vapor generated from the skillet, giving them a unique “breathing” sensation as they cook. This distinctive cooking method is what lends them the name “Qishui,” which translates to “steam and water” in English, reflecting the bubbling action of the water vapor during frying.

Steam and Water Buns have a long history in Wuhan, spanning several decades. During the winter months, one can often find large flat pans atop coal-fired stoves on the streets of Wuhan. These pans, covered in greasy lids, emit billowing steam as the buns cook. After about ten minutes, the excess water vapor evaporates, leaving behind plump, white buns nestled closely together. A ladle of golden cooking oil is poured over them, and they sizzle and crackle as they fry to perfection. Once cooked, these buns boast a crispy golden crust on the bottom while remaining soft and fluffy inside. The aroma of the hot pepper-infused glutinous rice filling wafts through the air, warming both the body and the soul.

While there are not many establishments that specialize in making Qi Shui Bao today, a few notable ones still exist. Xiongji (熊记) on Hubu Lane and various vendors along Shouyi Road’s food street offer this delectable treat. Additionally, there’s a longstanding establishment on Tongyi Street in Hankou known for its authentic Qishui Bao. Originally, these buns only came with a glutinous rice filling seasoned with fermented bean paste. However, nowadays, you can find variations with additional ingredients like vermicelli and shiitake mushrooms.

Steam and Water Buns are more than just a culinary delight; they are a cherished tradition in Wuhan, representing the city’s rich culinary heritage. With their crispy texture, flavorful filling, and unique cooking method, Qishui Bao offer a delightful sensory experience that continues to captivate palates and hearts in Wuhan and beyond.

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