Exploring Japan: Project Food Blog Challenge #2

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This past Friday I found out that I advanced to round 2 in Project Food Blog.  As excited as I was, my heart skipped a beat at the realization that our next post is due today. Being a designer, I’m used to deadlines, so I quickly put my thoughts on the project ahead and started to prep.  Our next challenge was to create a classic dish from another culture.  Not just any culture, but one that is outside our comfort zone or that we are unfamiliar with.  This was definitely a challenge for me.  I wanted to take a step away from anything Mediterranean or Latin.  At the same time, I wanted to prepare something that I have eaten in the past.  I find it difficult to create a dish that I have never eaten before because I’m not sure if the flavors I have created are true to their heritage.  Even within my own culture there are many times I have created Spanish dishes where my mami has had to correct me on the authenticity of the flavors.  
For me, food also means friends and family.  So when it came to thinking about creating something from another culture, I wanted it to have a special meaning behind it.  When we think about food, its so much more than what we are eating and where it came from but with whom we are breaking bread with.  After thinking about this challenge my heart was set on Japan.  You see, I’ve found a kindred spirit in Christine from Fresh, Local and Best.  If we only lived closer, I know I’d spend so much time with her.  We share similar food philosophies, love of culture, good wine and family.  It was this past February that I was so honored to meet her in New York City. As kind and thoughtful as she speaks through her blog, her genuineness is the same in person.  It was during this trip that Christine took my husband and I to have our very first bowl of ramen.  She took us to Ipuddo, a Japanese ramen noodle restaurant.  As an appetizer, we ordered steamed pork buns and it was these pork buns that left my husband and I dreaming for days.   Succulent pork belly blanketed by pillows of steamed dough.  The flavors of the pork bun were rich and vibrant and the ramen complemented it by the dashi, the stock.  Oh the wonders in nutrient dense stock.  The flavors in most asian stocks that I’ve had, including Vietnamese Pho, are delicate yet aromatic.  It’s this meal that I wanted to recreate at home, steamed pork buns with ramen noodles.

Could I really do this?  Yes, I can!


I decided to use the recipe provided by David Chang of Momofuku.  So… Friday evening, I started my pork belly to brine.

The following day, I visited my local farmers market and a local Asian Market.  As soon as I got home, I skyped my friend Christine.
Together we brainstormed on what I should include in the stock for the ramen.  I wanted it simple yet fragrant. Of course, I had to visit my friend Rachael’s blog from La Fuji Mama.  Rachael is the one whom introduced me to dashi through one of her posts.  I had decided on a Hoshi-Shiitaki dashi.  A simple stock made with dried shiitake mushrooms.

There are so many benefits to homemade broth.  I’ve written a post called, The Miracles of Broth which explains not only the nutritional benefits but the uses of it medicinally and as a source of nourishment.  It was interesting to me as Christine explained that in the Asian culture dairy is not consumed as it is in the Western World.  Asians, including Japanese, get much of their needed calcium through their stocks that they prepare and eat so frequently.  In order to give my stock additional depth I added a chicken carcass that I had in my freezer, some chicken feet for additional gelatin, a couple tablespoons of vinegar to extract minerals, and ginger to enhance the flavors.

As my stock started to simmer, I put my pork belly into the oven to roast and started on my steamed buns.  Since this was my first attempt at steamed buns, I decided to use a recipe by Zen Can Cook.  (I wish I had more time as I would have used Zen Chef’s recipe for curing my belly.  Oh well, my Berkshire hog is due to arrive this Thursday and I will be using my lovely pork belly on his recipe to grace my table soon.)  I am feeling quite confident these days in making my own bread.  In his recipe it only called for 1 1/3 cups water.  I had to increase this by 5 – 6 tablespoons.  But of course, as in all bread recipes, the flour used, humidity and warmth can effect the dough.  Now that I’ve made these buns once, I know they can be adapted using sprouted whole wheat flour.  For my next batch, I’m going to adapt the recipe using my own freshly milled sprouted flour for this because, yes… there will be another batch.

As far as the noodles go, I did attempt to make my own using freshly milled sprouted flour.  Unfortunately, not having a pasta cutter was holding me back.  I did freeze my dough and will be using it for ravioli soon.


Yesterday was a very busy day of cooking down stock, making dough and rolling pasta.  I did have a wonderful time as my family was helping me out along the way. At the end we had a delightful meal of steamed pork buns and ramen that tasted beyond what words can explain.  Although the steamed pork buns were different from Ippudo, they had a robust and vibrant flavor.  I did add my own fermented pickles which complemented the flavors.  I don’t feel a vinegar dill pickle would do this justice (New fermented pickle recipe coming this week). One thing that was particularly funny to me was as my mami and I were filling the steamed pork buns, each member of my family kept walking into the kitchen and saying, “oh… Chinese tacos.”  That’s a Latino for you!  As far as the ramen, it was infused with a delicate and nourishing stock topped with mustard greens, green onions and a hard boiled egg.  The meal was embraced by everyone.

Steamed Pork Belly Buns by David Chang

I encourage you to give these steamed pork buns a try.  They make a wonderful appetizer and will leave everyone speaking about them for days.


For the Pork

  • 1/4 cup celtic sea salt
  • 1/2 cup pure can juice
  • 4 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 2 1/2 lb skinless boneless pork belly, cut into quarters
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
For the Buns – Recipe by Zen Can Cook
  • 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
  • 1 1/3 cup warm water (about 110F)
  • 3 tablespoons lard, melted
  • 2 cups all purpose unbleached flour
  • 3 cups bread flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup pure cane juice


For the Pork

Brine Pork

Stir together kosher salt, sugar, and 4 cups water until sugar and salt have dissolved. Put pork belly in a large sealable bag, then pour in brine. Carefully press out air and seal bag. Lay in a shallow dish and let brine, chilled, at least 12 hours.

Roast Pork while dough rises

Discard brine and put pork, fat side up, in an 8- to 9-inch square baking pan. Pour in broth and remaining 1/2 cup water. Cover tightly with foil and roast until pork is very tender, about 2 1/2 hours. Remove foil and increase oven temperature to 450°F, then roast until fat is golden, about 20 minutes more. Cool 30 minutes, then chill, uncovered, until cold, about 1 hour.

Cut chilled pork across the grain into 1/4-inch slices. Chill slices in pan juices, covered, while making buns.

To serve:

Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Heat sliced pork (in liquid in baking dish), covered, until hot, 15 to 20 minutes.

Brush bottom half of each bun with hoisin sauce, then sandwich with 2 or 3 pork slices, pickles and scallions.

For the Buns

In a bowl, mix together yeast, water, and lard.  Let it sit 5 minutes.

In the bowl of a mixer combine the flours, salt and sugar.  Add the yeast mixture and mix with the dough hook until the dough comes together, about 5 minutes.  Put the dough in a large bowl (oil it first) and cover with a wet towel.  Let it rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 hours.
Turn the dough into about 20 – 25 golf size balls.  Place on a tray, cover with the towel and let rise for 30 minutes more.

Press the balls flat to make 4-inches wide rounds.  Brush each rounds with oil and fold in half and place each one on individual piece of parchment paper.  Let it rise again for 20 minutes. (cover).

When ready to eat, set up a steamer over boiling water and place buns in the basket. Steam for 7 – 8 minutes (in batches) until puffed.


Shiitake Ramen
For the Broth:
  • 6oz dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 1 chicken carcass, (or chicken pieces)
  • 4tbls grated ginger
  • 1/2 onion
  • 2 carrots cut in pieces
  • 2 tbls raw apple cider vinegar
  • 4 quarts filtered water
  • salt to taste
In a large stockpot place chicken and vinegar in the water.  Let sit for 30 minutes to 1 hour.  Add the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil.  Lower the heat and simmer for 3-6 hours.
For the Ramen:
  • 3 packages ramen noodles from your local asian grocer.
  • mustard greens, sliced
  • green onions, sliced
  • 3 hardboiled eggs, cut in half
  • salt to taste
In a large dutch oven bring water to a boil.  Add the ramen and boil for 3-5 minutes.
To assemble:
Fill a large bowl with broth.  Add enough noodles to fill the bowl and top with mustard greens, green onions and half a hard boiled egg.

If you have a free minute and enjoyed this post, please cast a vote for me.

Thanks Foodbuzz for the challenge and I do encourage all of my readers to reach out and fill their bowls with culture.
Buen Provecho!

33 Responses to "Exploring Japan: Project Food Blog Challenge #2"
  1. Fresh Local and Best says:

    Great job Diana! I'm so impressed that you made your own bread buns, they are totally Chinese tacos! So funny that your mami called them that. Thanks for making me part of this post. The pork buns and the ramen must have been amazing!

  2. Simply Life says:

    wow! nice work! that looks amazing!

  3. Foy Update - Garden Cook Write Repeat says:

    You are so right about making a dish you've had before. For my post I did Moroccan Chicken Kdra. I have no idea if the flavors are right. It tastes amazing, but I could have it all wrong. Although I do love diving head first into a food challenge.

    I think you might want to start thinking about your dinner party next! Due next Sunday and I see you continuing!

  4. Mexico in my kitchen says:

    I want to cook that dish, specially the pork belly and buns.

    Thanks for such a great explanation in pictures.


  5. Eddie@CulinaryStudio says:

    Nice job! I'm impressed that you decided to do pork buns and ramen given the tight deadline. Very brave, but I'm glad it worked out!

  6. maybelle's mom says:

    wonderful post. I think exactly like you I made something I had never tasted which is a great surprise.

  7. DJ Karma (VegSpinz) says:

    Nice presentation! I was inspired by Japan too- my host daughter who's coming back to visit.

    I think this will definitely take you to round #3! Good luck!

  8. Winnie says:

    I love this! Your pork buns looks amazing and so does your version of ramen…great job, Diana!

  9. Tiny Urban Kitchen says:

    Diana! I am sooooo impressed with you! You totally went above and beyond with this! I love how you tackled two dishes with such vigor.

  10. Belinda @zomppa says:

    I am drooling. I love ramen and I LOOOOOVE pork belly. I'm so impressed at how the buns came out. You two are two of my favorites so it's awesome to see your friendship blossom.

  11. Kimberly @ Poor Girl Eats Well says:

    Just gorgeous, Diana! You know you have my vote!

  12. RhodeyGirl says:

    Love love love this entry. As soon as I can find it on Foodbuzz, you will have my vote!

  13. Noelle says:

    Christine is funny! Those like Chinese tacos indeed! Great job on this Japanese fare. Hope you make it to the next round!

  14. jose manuel says:

    Que recetas más fantasticas, esto se ve delicioso.


  15. Food, she thought. says:

    I could tell this was Momofuku just from the pics. Very nice work. Get ready for round 3! (I am already planning my dinner party, just in case. It's a darn quick turn around.) :-/


  16. My Little Space says:

    Diana, you did a super great job here. I am so impressed. OMG, this is a perfect complete meal. Absolutely superb! Just voted for you. Wishing you all the best and good luck!

  17. Jenny @ Nourished Kitchen says:

    Awesome! You got my vote.

  18. Cristie says:

    What a beautiful meal! Just perfect, every piece.

  19. Chow and Chatter says:

    wow amazing so proud of you we need to skype as well LOL will vote now LOL Rebecca

  20. City Share says:

    All of the food looks amazing. I can almost taste those Chinese tacos. :) You have my vote.

  21. a moderate life says:

    Yummy Diana! Wish I had known you in February! We could have hooked up too! Will head over to foodbuzz and give you some love! :) Alex@amoderatelife!

  22. KELLY says:

    Good job! You have my vote.

    I made Momofuku pork buns a while ago. So good. Glad you tried the recipe.

    Pho was my recipe of choice for this challenge, since I'd never even eaten it before.

    Sounding My Barbaric Gulp!


  23. The Enchanted Cook says:

    Wow what an impressive post! Not one but 2 amazing and authentic dishes. Did you really have a chicken carcass and chicken feet hanging around? Again, totally impressive! Voting for you right now :-)

    Best wishes,

  24. Mariko says:

    I had this meal at Momofuku and I was JUST thinking about it! I loved it. I would love to recreate this. Great job.

  25. Anonymous says:

    First of all – I think you did a good job with the pork buns… so you get my vote on effort and visual appeal. However, I must admit that I was a little confused by your entry since I was expecting a Japanese dish but you featured David Chang's adaptation of a classic Chinese dish (which I think was originally Taiwanese gua bao). While it certainly looks delicious, it's not Japanese. I believe the Japanese version is a closed bun called nikuman.

  26. Diana Bauman says:

    Thank you so much to everyone that commented. This meal was definitely a challenge for me but so much fun to recreate.

    Anonymous, thank you for comment. I'm not sure if I understand your confusion though. I do know this was an adaptation as most steamed buns are closed. However, as I had written in my post, I wanted to recreate a meal that had more meaning to me. It was in NYC that my friend took me to a Japanese restaurant that I first had a steamed pork bun and being from the Midwest, well… no one is familiar with these sorts of buns. Besides this, I did include a traditional Japanese ramen made with a shiitake dashi to pair with the buns. So, I hope that clears up some of the confusion. Thanks again for stopping by.

    So funny Veronica, because yes, I do usually have locally raised chicken carcasses, feet and other bones in my freeze. They do come in handy for mineral rich bone broth.

  27. Anonymous says:

    Hi Diane, I hope my comment about the pork buns did not offend. I enjoyed reading your blog and will definitely become a regular reader. I love your philosophy about cooking local and can't wait to try some of your Spanish recipes. (Re: my confusion – I just figured if you were going to be "Exploring Japan", then both dishes should be Japanese, especially since it was a Japanese (rather than Chinese) pork bun that inspired you. You got my vote and I hope you make it to the next round :) Good luck!

  28. Artistta says:

    Hi Dianna! Love your post, great photos and wonderfully written. It looks delicious and will be something I'll have to try in the near future. Todd also loved your post and thinks it's one of his favorites. Wasn't this challenge fun?! I might have to do a challenge like this for myself on a more regular basis. :-) I hope you are doing well. You are in my prayers my friend!

  29. Daydreamer Desserts says:

    Excellent post Diana! You know you've got my vote!!

  30. Amelia PS says:

    absolutely great! I have done these buns before: yours look perfect.
    Voted (you can see my entry here: http://www.foodbuzz.com/project_food_blog/challenges/2/view/869)

  31. bella (roz) says:

    Gosh, these look so good; I love the homemade taco
    'shells' bread . . . mmmm! Best wishes on the competition!

  32. Lick My Spoon says:

    Really great job! I've been meaning to make those recipes from the Momofuku cookbook but haven't moved away from the Shrimp and Grits. I'm motivated to make the Pork Belly Sandwiches immediately. OMG they look sooooo good. You got my vote!

    Lick My Spoon

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