Spelled 馒头 in simplified Chinese, this bread is made from wheat flour and has the particularity to be steamed, so there’s no crust at all.

The Mantou seems to have appeared during the Zhou Dynasty (1046 – 771 BC) in East China. A popular Chinese legend relate that the word “mantou” would mean “barbarian’s head”, as the story of Zhuge Liang, a well-known regent and military strategist, say that he needed to cross the Lu River, which had big, stormy waves. The locals told him that to appease the river, he had to sacrifice 50 barbarian’s head and throw them in the river. Zhuge Liang didn’t want to lose more of his men, so he ordered them to kill the livestock, and fill their meat into a flour dough, shaped like human heads. The buns were then thrown into the river. After a successful crossing, he decided to name the bun barbarian’s head, so mantou.

Later in the history, around the 10th century, the term baozi (long version of bao), appeared to indicate filled buns, while mantou is the word for plain bread.
The Mongols are thought to have taken the baozi to many countries of Central and East Asia during the 13th century.

Back in pre-industrial China, baozi are the working man’s lunch, ranging from 4 to 15 centimeters. As white flour being more processed, it was once more expensive, so white mantou were something of a luxury.

Nowadays, mantou and baozi are very popular dishes in Asia, especially in North China were wheat, rather than rice, is grown. In every market there you can find three types : one meat or fish, one vegetarian and one plain.


This is a very interesting bread, especially for me as I come from France, but I guess that if you live in Asia you must eat that very often and won’t think that it is that big of a deal. The texture is soft and dense and is perfect to fill with any garnish, before or after baking. In this recipe, I use pâte fermentée which makes the dough to prove a bit more and gives it a stronger taste rather than using fresh yeast straight away.
TYPE: Bread
YIELD: 8 mantou
KNEADING: 10 mins
BAKING: 12 mins
TOTAL TIME: 1 hr 22 mins


  • 250 g white bread flour
  • 5 g salt
  • 15 g sugar
  • 3 g baking soda
  • 7 g fresh yeast or 3g dried yeast
  • 250 g pâte fermentée
  • 140 g water at room temp.
  • 10 g vegetable oil


  1. Mix everything together for 3min in 1st speed then 7min in 2nd speed.
  2. Let the dough rest for 15 minutes.
  3. Divide the dough into 8 pieces.
  4. Ball them.
  5. Let it rest for 15 minutes.
  6. Ball them again.
  7. Put the dough onto little squares of parchment paper which will be easier to manipulate.
  8. Place the tray in a cold oven with a bowl of boiling water at the bottom. The temperature should be around 27°C.
  9. Let it prove for 30 minutes.
  10. You can either bake the dough in a steamer or in a oven with a steam function set at 100°C. If you don’t have any of those like myself, heat up a pot of water and bring it to a boil, place a strainer on top and put a lid on. You’ve got yourself a steamer.
  11. Put the dough in your steamer and put the lid on. Steam for around 12 minutes. Do not open the lid or the door before that. When the timer is over, open the lid very slowly to not deflate the dough.
  12. Let it cool down on a tray or eat it hot straight away.
  13. Enjoy!

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