Baked Manapua: Easy Pork-Stuffed Buns, a Taste of Hawaii at Home!
Most of my absolute best childhood memories involve manapua, or Hawaiian-style char siu bao.
Growing up on the mainland meant my family was far away from both our family in Hawaii & the amazing comfort foods of the islands. So whenever we flew back to Honolulu, we’d always stop to pick up a huge box of manapua & pork hash (Hawaiian-style siu mai) on the way home to Grandpa’s house from the airport. And whenever family came to visit us in Wisconsin, they’d always carry a box of manapua with them onto the plane (that’s how a Hawaiian Grandpa or Auntie shows true love! 😂🥰).
You’ll understand, then, that biting into one of these warm pork buns tastes like home in a way that’s difficult to put into words. The balance of sweet & spiced char siu pork in a soft & puffy bun is absolutely perfect. Manapua is SO special & I am beyond excited to finally share my family’s manapua recipe here on PWWB.
Frozen dinner roll dough is my Mom’s shortcut for the easiest homemade baked manapua – it completely eliminates the need to make homemade bread dough. Instead, frozen dinner roll dough balls come conveniently pre-portioned & they have a fantastic soft, puffy texture. And while baked manapua still takes some time to prepare, this secret ingredient makes the process a lot easier!
Hawaiian Baked Manapua Recipe Highlights
You will LOVE these homemade manapua buns because they are…
- SERIOUSLY STUFFED. We don’t skimp on pork here! Each bun is stuffed with a flavorful char siu pork filling, making these homemade manapua buns super satisfying.
- SERIOUSLY EASY. There’s no need to make bread dough from scratch! Frozen dinner roll dough is this recipe’s “secret” ingredient, saving you tons of kneading & proofing time.
- LOCAL-STYLE HAWAIIAN GOODNESS. A bite of baked manapua instantly brings me back to fond childhood memories with family in Hawaii. It’s the absolute best local-style comfort food – you’d never guess how easy it is to make at home!
A taste of Hawaii, right in your own kitchen – it does not get better than that! ♡ Read on to learn more about how to make these Easy Baked Manapua, or jump straight to the recipe & get cooking!
Let’s Take a Step Back…What is Manapua?
Manapua (“mah-nah-poo-ah”) is essentially local-style Chinese char siu bao, & it’s very popular in Hawaii! Like many popular foods in today’s local Hawaii food scene, manapua’s presence in Hawaii is a result of Asian immigrant influence.
Back in the 1800s, Chinese immigrants working on Hawaiian plantations would often bring bao buns stuffed with char siu pork (an iconic recipe from their homeland) as a workday meal. Many of these Chinese workers then went on to open restaurants & snack shops that featured char siu bao. The buns became known as manapua in Hawaii, a name that comes from the Hawaiian phrases mea ono pua (which translates to “pork pastry”) & mauna pua’a (or “mountain of pork”). “Manapua men” became legends on the island, traveling the streets to sell manapua & other snacks to locals at the beach or as an after-school treat.
Manapua is commonly steamed or baked in Hawaii, but baked manapua has always been my favorite. I find that baked manapua buns have a lighter, airier texture than the springy, moist texture of a steamed bun. Today there are lots of different types of manapua fillings, though char siu manapua is still the most classic.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Key Ingredients for Easy Homemade Manapua
You need just a handful of ingredients to make the perfect Hawaiian baked manapua at home…
- Char siu pork – This iconic Cantonese-style roasted BBQ pork is the star of the manapua filling. Learn more about char siu below!
- Aromatics – A fragrant combination of yellow onion & green onion.
- Water chestnuts – An addition that may not be especially traditional, but my family loves the extra bit of refreshingly crunchy-crisp texture water chestnuts add to puffy & tender pork buns. Buy them canned in the “international foods” aisle at most conventional grocery stores.
- Pantry staples – A little bit of dark brown sugar, chicken broth, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, & sesame oil.
- Frozen dinner roll dough – A secret ingredient that makes this baked manapua recipe seriously easy to make at home. You can find frozen dinner roll dough balls in the freezer section at most grocery stores. (Rhodes Bake-N-Serv Dinner Rolls are our favorite!)
- Egg wash – Lightly brushing the manapua buns with egg helps them turn beautifully golden brown as they bake.
Char Siu Pork
Char siu is an iconic Chinese (specifically, Cantonese) roasted BBQ pork. Its name literally means “fork roasted” because the pork is traditionally skewered on long forks & roasted over an open fire or vertically in an oven.
Signature to char siu is a deep, uniquely sweet-savory-spiced flavor, which is a result of char siu sauce – a marinade typically made with Chinese five spice, soy sauce &/or hoisin sauce, & a sweetener like honey or maltose. The meat is basted with even more char siu sauce as it roasts, allowing the heat to caramelize the sugars & give the juicy Chinese BBQ pork a crave-worthy crisp finish.
I always assumed char siu pork was pretty complicated to make – due to its uniquely spiced-yet-sweet flavor & intense red hue – but it turns out that’s not necessarily true! Like most of my Mom’s recipes, her char siu is no-fuss & super easy to make at home. I definitely recommend making her char siu pork recipe for baked manapua.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
Char Siu Pork Filling for Manapua
These baked pork buns are stuffed with the best savory-sweet pork filling. It’s easy to make at home & comes together on the stovetop quickly, with just a handful of staple ingredients.
Prep the char siu. While you can grab it ready-made from your favorite Chinese bakery, char siu pork is also really easy at home. My mom’s homemade char siu pork recipe is my all-time fave! Recipe Tip! ⇢ At my house, we typically make manapua using leftover char siu pork. I freeze finely diced char siu in perfect portions for a batch of baked manapua, which makes it even easier to throw together on a whim.
Assemble the char siu filling. In a large skillet, render the char siu pork with onions, then add dark brown sugar, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, chicken broth, & a little sesame oil. Simmer for a few minutes, making the char siu filling caramelly & bubbly, before stirring in a cornstarch slurry for the perfect thick & glossy consistency. Set aside to cool, & then you’re ready for manapua assembly.
Full Recipe Directions, including step-by-step photos, are included in the Recipe Card, below.
How to Make Char Siu Manapua at Home (with an Easy Shortcut!)
Once the char siu filling is prepped, it’s manapua time! Here’s what you’ll do.
Prepare the dough. Frozen dinner roll dough is the game-changing secret ingredient in this baked manapua recipe. While you don’t have to make dough from scratch, you do need to give the dough balls time to defrost. Take them out of the freezer & let the dough balls thaw on a baking sheet for about 3-4 hours. You’ll know they’re ready to go once the dough looks puffy & roughly doubled in size.
Assemble the manapua. Flatten each dough ball with the palm of your hand, then add a heaping spoonful of the char siu filling into the center – no skimping on pork here! Work in a circle to gather & pinch the edges of the dough until the filling is fully enclosed & sealed within the bun. Baked Pork Bun Tip! ⇢ It’s important to get a good seal or else the filling will leak out as the manapua bakes. Use your fingers to tightly pinch the seal shut. Since the manapua is seal side down, there’s no need for it to look pretty – just make sure it’s sealed!
Proof the buns. Cover the stuffed pork buns & leave them to rest for about 30 minutes until the dough is puffy & soft. Why? ⇢ Proofing is all about the yeast – as it rests & ferments it produces gases that leaven the dough. This is essential for making puffy, soft manapua buns!
Bake the manapua. Lightly brush the proofed buns with egg wash, then transfer to the oven & bake for about 20 minutes. Trust the process & resist the temptation to open the oven as they bake to ensure you end up with the puffiest baked manapua possible!
Manapua Tips: Prepping, Reheating, & Freezing Pork Manapua Buns
It’s helpful to think of this easy baked manapua recipe as a kitchen project. Even though the use of frozen dinner roll dough helps make this recipe really easy & straight-forward, these pork buns still take a few hours to prepare (much of the time is completely inactive!).
After tons of tinkering & testing, though, I’m thrilled to note that we’ve figured out a few different approaches to prepping homemade manapua. Each streamlines the process & eliminates a bunch of time the day-of, getting you that much closer to freshly baked manapua on a whim.
Make-Ahead Manapua, 3 Ways!
#1: Prep the char siu filling in advance. Prepare the char siu filling, then transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The day you’d like to assemble the pork manapua buns, simply thaw the dinner roll dough, stuff, & bake. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for step-by-step guidance.
#2: Assemble the manapua in advance. Stuff the char siu manapua buns as described. Instead of proofing them to bake immediately, wrap each bun tightly in plastic & store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days until you’re ready to bake them off. The cold air in the refrigerator prevents proofing, so all you have to do the day-of is let the buns sit at room temperature for 30 minutes or so while the oven preheats – easy! Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for step-by-step guidance.
#3: Bake the manapua from frozen. Stuff the char siu manapua buns then freeze them for up to three months! I love having a freezer full of manapua that I can easily bake when the manapua craving strikes. It’s worth noting that baked-from-frozen manapua aren’t quite as pretty as the other methods provided in this recipe, but they’re still really tasty. (Plus, is there anything better than on-demand baked manapua? I don’t think so! 🙌🏼) For best results, thaw for 2 hours at room temperature, then bake as directed, adding a few minutes of baking time as needed to ensure the dough cooks all the way through. Refer to the Recipe Notes, below, for step-by-step guidance.
Baked Manapua Storage & Reheating
You can store fully baked manapua in the fridge for up to 4 days or freeze the baked manapua for up to 3 months. Either way, the best way to reheat leftover manapua is in the microwave. The manapua buns will maintain their light & fluffy texture & should be warmed through in just 1-2 minutes. See the Recipe Notes, below, for more storage & reheating tips.
I can’t wait for you to try these Baked Manapua! They’re easy to make & even easier to enjoy – I know you’ll love them as much as we do! If you do give them a try, be sure to let me know! Leave a comment with a star rating below. You can also snap a photo & tag @playswellwithbutter on Instagram. I LOVE hearing about & seeing your PWWB creations!
Ready for More Local-Style Hawaiian dishes?! You’re in the right place! 🙌🏼🤙🏼 Be sure to try my family’s Best-Ever Kalua Pig, Hawaiian-Style Pork Chow Fun, or One-Pot Shoyu Chicken next. ♡ Happy cooking!Print
Manapua, Hawaii’s equivalent to Chinese pork buns (char siu bao), is one of my all-time favorite comfort foods. Growing up on the mainland, my family was far away from our extended family in Hawaii, so the taste of iconic local-style dishes always transported us back to our home on the islands. Over the years, my mom cracked the code to making absolutely killer baked manapua easily, thanks to a secret ingredient & a semi-homemade approach.
Pre-made dinner roll dough from the freezer section yields perfectly soft & puffy buns without the fuss involved with mixing & kneading homemade bread dough. Simply thaw them out, stuff them with a savory-spiced-sweet char siu pork filling, & bake until beautifully golden. Easy!
While this baked manapua recipe is easy, there is a fair amount of time involved in thawing & proofing the bread dough. It’s mostly inactive, but you can also take a number of different make-ahead manapua approaches to help streamline day-of prep. See the Recipe Notes, below, for more details.
Nothing beats freshly baked manapua from a bakery in Hawaii, of course, but I think my family’s at-home manapua recipe is just about the next best thing. We hope you enjoy! ♡
for baked manapua assembly:
- 12 frozen dinner roll dough balls (see Recipe Notes)
- char siu filling (below)
- all-purpose flour, for dusting
- 1 large egg, beaten with 1 teaspoon water
- 1 teaspoon honey, whisked with 1 teaspoon hot water
for the char siu filling:
- nonstick cooking spray
- 1 tablespoon grapeseed oil or high smoke point vegetable oil of choice
- 1/2 small yellow onion, finely diced
- 16 ounces char siu pork, diced into 1/4-inch cubes (~2 cups diced) (see Recipe Notes)
- 2 ounces water chestnuts, finely diced (~1/3 cup diced) (see Recipe Notes)
- 1 green onion, thinly sliced
- 2 tablespoons dark brown sugar (can sub regular brown sugar)
- 1/3 cup chicken broth
- 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
- 2 teaspoons hoisin sauce
- 1 teaspoon sesame oil
- 1 scant tablespoon cornstarch, whisked with 1 tablespoon water
- kosher salt & white pepper, to season
- Prepare the dough: 3-4 hours before you’d like to prep & bake manapua, prepare the dough by thawing it out. Place the frozen dinner roll dough balls on a parchment-lined baking sheet, arranging them at least 2 inches apart from each other. Lightly spritz a large piece of plastic wrap with nonstick cooking spray. Gently place it over the frozen dough, oil side facing down. Set aside for 3-4 hours, until the dough is completely thawed & looks puffy or swollen.
- Prepare the char siu filling – render the char siu pork & cook the aromatics: Once the dough is thawed, begin prepping the char siu filling. Add the grapeseed oil to a large skillet over medium heat. Once the oil is hot & shimmering, add in the yellow onion & char siu pork. Season with a small pinch of kosher salt & 1/2 teaspoon white pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the onion is translucent & the pork is rendered slightly. Add the water chestnuts & green onion to the skillet, stirring to combine. Cook 1-2 minutes longer, just until the green onions are softened & fragrant.
- Finish the char siu filling: Add the dark brown sugar to the skillet, stirring to coat the char siu pork mixture. Cook until dissolved, 1-2 minutes. Meanwhile, whisk together the chicken broth, oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, & sesame oil (it’s most efficient to do so in a liquid measuring cup!). Once the brown sugar is dissolved, add the chicken broth mixture to the skillet. Stir to combine. While stirring occasionally, bring the mixture to a simmer & allow everything to bubble together for 1-2 minutes. Stir in the cornstarch slurry. Cook 1-2 minutes longer, until thickened. Carefully transfer the char siu filling to a large bowl or plate to cool before assembling the manapua, or transfer to an airtight container & store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.
- Assemble the manapua: Lightly dust a clean work surface with flour. Place one dough ball on the prepared work surface. Use the palm of your hand to flatten it into a circle roughly 3 1/2 inches in diameter. Place the dough in the palm of your non-dominant hand. Use your other hand to add a heaping spoonful (roughly 2 tablespoons) of the prepared char siu filling to the center of the dough. Starting on one side of the dough & working your way around the circle, use your fingers to gather & pinch the edges of the dough until the filling is fully enclosed & the bao is sealed. Use your hand to smooth & press the seal flat. Place the assembled bao, seam side down, on the parchment-lined baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough balls & char siu filling until all 12 manapua are assembled.
- Proof the manapua for baking: Place the lightly oiled plastic wrap over the assembled manapua, oil side facing down. Set aside to proof for 30 minutes, at which point the dough will look puffy & swollen again. This is also a great time to preheat the oven for baking. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F, ensuring a rack is positioned in the center of the oven.
- Bake the manapua: Lightly brush the tops of the bao with egg wash, then transfer to the oven. Bake the manapua 18-20 minutes, or until beautifully golden brown.
- Serving: Remove the baked manapua the oven & allow to cool slightly. If desired, brush the tops of the bao with honey wash for a crave-worthy sticky-sweet finish. Serve immediately. Enjoy!
- Ingredient Notes:
- Frozen dinner roll dough balls are the secret ingredient that makes this baked manapua recipe quick(er) & easy! Since they’re already pre-portioned & ready to bake, they make for a savvy substitute for homemade bread dough. Frozen dinner roll dough balls are readily available in the freezer section at most conventional grocery stores. We love Rhodes Bake-N-Serv Dinner Rolls.
- Char siu is an iconic Chinese (specifically, Cantonese) roasted BBQ pork. Perhaps most commonly known for its vibrant red color, char siu is super juicy with a unique spiced-savory-sweet flavor. You can purchase prepared char siu at most Chinese/Asian grocery stores with a deli, but it’s also incredibly simple to make at home – try my Mom’s Easy Homemade Char Siu recipe!
- Water chestnuts are an aquatic tuber (named after their chestnut-like appearance) indigenous to Southeast Asia. They are very mild in flavor, but have a wonderfully refreshing crunchy-crisp texture. You’ll often see water chestnuts used in Chinese-style stir fries, but my family always adds them to dishes like manapua or siu mai for extra texture. Canned water chestnuts are readily available in most conventional grocery stores – find them in the “International” aisle near other Asian ingredients.
- Storage, & Freezing:
- Storage & Reheating: Leftover baked manapua will keep, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator, for 3-4 days. Reheat in the microwave until warmed through.
- Freezer Instructions: You can also freeze leftover baked manapua. Transfer the chilled baked manapua to a freezer bag & freeze for up to 3 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator, then reheat in the microwave until warmed through.
- Make-Ahead Baked Manapua: While this baked manapua recipe is easy & straight-forward, thawing the dough & filling the buns does take a little time – it’s kind of a kitchen project in that way. If you’d like to do a little prep in advance to cut down on active hands-on time when you bake your buns, there are a few options:
- Make-Ahead Option #1: Prep the char siu filling in advance. Prepare the char siu filling according to Steps 3-4 of Recipe Directions, above. Cool & transfer to an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for up to 5 days. The day you’d like to prepare baked manapua, simply thaw the dough & assemble the manapua according to Steps 1 & 4, above, then proceed with proofing & baking.
- Make-Ahead Option #2: Assemble the manapua in advance. Prepare the manapua according to Steps 1-4 of Recipe Notes, above. Rather than proofing, wrap tightly with plastic wrap & store in the refrigerator for up to 2 days. To bake, simply allow the manapua to warm slightly & bake according to Steps 5-7 of Recipe Directions, above.
- Make-Ahead Option #3: Bake from frozen. I love having a freezer stash of manapua to easily bake whenever the craving strikes. It’s worth noting that baked-from-frozen manapua aren’t quite as pretty as the other methods provided in this recipe, but they’re still really tasty. To freeze, prepare the manapua according to Steps 1-4 of Recipe Notes, above. Place the manapua, uncovered, in the freezer to individually quick freeze for about 1 hour, then transfer the frozen manapua to a freezer bag. Freeze unbaked manapua up to 3 months. For best results, thaw the frozen manapua overnight in the refrigerator or for 2 hours at room temperature, until the manapua is warm & slightly puffy. If you don’t have the time or foresight, you can skip this step. From there, bake according to Steps 5-7 of Recipe Directions, above, adding a few minutes of baking time as needed to ensure the dough cooks all the way through.
Keywords: homemade manapua recipe, baked manapua recipe, hawaiian-style recipes
Recipe & Food Styling by Jess Larson, Plays Well With Butter | Photography by Rachel Cook, Half Acre House.