The Story of Steam Bun

Pau Kampung

When I was a child, the introduction to the steam bun by my late mother is something I keep in my mind.

Since then, I had been eaten steam bun throughout the life.

Now, I made it for my family whenever I want to since the snack is even being loved by my children and grandchildren. I never get bored. 

Reminiscing the past, steam bun or fondly known as pau in Malay word is only available at Malay kuih stalls for breakfast in the village. 

At that time, It is not be commercialised yet.  

Normally the pau was made by a housewife and was placed at a stall to be sold by the stall owner. 

There are other kinds of Malay traditional kuih being sold at the stall.

To name a few such as Seri Muka, Apam, curry puff, Kuih Ketayap and others depending on what being send by the housewife. 

The pau kampung that had been sold at the stall is small and yellowish in colour.

Usually, the filling is made from grated coconut cooked with palm sugar. Sometimes, we can find mung beans as filling.

The bottom of the bun is layered with banana leaves. 

Steam buns need time to expand. It does not require many ingredients but needs more time for pau to rise from the original dough.

The size of kampung pau is small, about the size of a tennis ball.

The pau is soft and tasty to eat when it is freshly steamed but gets hardened during midday.  

The softness does not last long. It could not be frozen or re-steam.  

My late mum made this type of bun that is made from plain flour and yeast.

Whatever mum’s cook we like to eat and I too learned this type of pau from her. 

I made this type of bun for so many years for my children.  

They never complain.

Commercial Pau

After so many years, the pau had been commercialised.  

The size of the pau is bigger than the pau kampung.

It is extra soft and the colour not yellowish. 

This pau look whiter and have a variety of filling. 

The favourite for all is red bean paste and followed by kaya paste.

Then they add up more variety of fillings such as chicken and beef curry filling. Chicken and beef are more expensive compared to red bean and kaya paste. 

This commercial pau sells at restaurants and the rest centre is known as R&R (Rehat dan Rawat) on Malaysian Highway. 

This pau have higher demand.  

In a restaurant, the seller places a multi-level steamer to make sure the pau is warm at all times during business hours with a variety of filling. 

It is difficult for me to resist buying it if I see the steaming bun while stopping at R&R while travelling, namely at Lebuhraya Utara-Selatan. 

My favourite filling is red bean paste. The dough is soft and the filling is tasty. I felt regret that I couldn’t make it with the soft pau at the time. 

After some time, the price keeps on increasing. I have to pay more.

I’m not happy because the size is smaller with a little bit of filling.

The pau kampung is not as good as a commercial bun but I do not know the ingredients that make the bun softer and whiter.

Journey to local baking shop 

I am used to go to a local baking supply shop in my hometown to buy my stocks. Here, there is a large selection of baking ingredients to choose from.

Pau in the making
After so many attempts using the mixed flour that I found in the local baking supply, I finally made my own commercial pau for the family.

I buy things such as milk, butter, cheese, flour, chocolate and filings here. 

One fine day on one of my trips to the shop I stumbled upon a stack of pau flour complete with dough ingredients.

I took one packet and paid at the counter.  

At home, I try to make pau dough. I believe this dough may produce the commercial pau but it’s hard for me to make it as there is no instruction in the packet. 

You see, this is the repacked version from the shop, so there is no instruction accompanying it. 

I try many times until I get the right amount of water and time for the dough to expand.

When making pau dough, we have to be patient and not hurry to steam it. Without enough time, the dough does not rise.

After so many attempt, now I can make my own commercial pau by buying the set of flour which is cheaper compared to buying the ready to eat pau.

I’m using either red bean paste or kaya to make buns which are available at the shop. 

For one kilogram of pau flour, I can make about 33 pieces of pau.

old antique steam cooker
The old antique steam cooker that I used to cook my pau.

I normally make a large quantity for my family and keep it in the refrigerator. 

I steam the pau for about 7 minutes after taking it out from the refrigerator whenever I want to eat it.


The difference between the pau kampung and commercial pau is the filling, colour and texture. 

Pau kampung uses grated coconut and mung bean for the filling while commercial buns have more variety of fillings such as red bean paste, kaya, beef and chicken curry. 

It is more fluffy, soft and whiter compared to the pau kampung which is yellowish and hardened. 

Commercial pau can be stored in the refrigerator for about two weeks while pau kampung has no privileges.  

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