Nikuman is a popular Japanese snack inspired by Chinese baozi. This delicious steamed bun is made with juicy pork and finely chopped vegetables encased in a soft and fluffy dough. In this post I will teach you everything you need to know to make the ultimate nikuman from scratch at home, so let's get started!
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What is Nikuman?
Nikuman is a steamed bun dish consisting of a juicy meat and vegetable filling wrapped in a soft and fluffy dough made by kneading and resting flour, water, sugar, yeast and baking powder to give it the perfect rise. Often called "buta-man" in the Kansai region, nikuman is most commonly made with pork and is a favorite winter snack found in Japanese convenience stores.
The filling usually contains onions, bamboo shoots, and shiitake mushrooms, with extras like dried scallops, oyster sauce, and even shark fins for an extra burst of flavor in addition to pork.
Brief history of nikuman
Nikuman, a type of "chuka man" or Chinese-style bun, is inspired by China's baozi. In Japan, the filling has developed in its own unique way and has been loved for many years.
Although it's unclear when nikuman first arrived in Japan, steamed buns likely started in Chinatown and specialty shops. In 1927, "Shinjuku Nakamuraya" adapted them for Japanese tastes, giving nikuman a history of at least 80-years in Japan.
Nikuman as we know it today is closer to the Shinjuku Nakamuraya's version than the original Chinese baozi.
Convenience store and nikuman
Nikuman is a winter favorite in Japanese convenience stores, just like oden. I remember warming up with hot nikuman after hanging out with friends when I was a student. Even to this day, I can't go through winter without enjoying a nikuman from my local convenience store.
Convenience stores (known as "combini" for short) first started selling steamed buns in the 1970s, when convenience stores themselves began to spread. The endless popularity of nikuman began when they were first sold at "Sun Avery" now renamed to "Daily Yamazaki".
Today, in addition to meat buns, convenience stores sell all sorts of variations of steamed dumpling including an man (red bean paste dumpling), curry man and even "pizza man" filled with tomato sauce and cheese. If you visit Japan in the winter, be sure to try the nikuman at a convenience store to warm up!
Nikuman vs baozi: what are the differences?
Baozi, a Chinese dim sum, is known as chuka-man in Japan. In other words, from a broad perspective, nikuman is a Japanese derivative of baozi. Considering that nikuman is a Japanese version of baozi, it makes sense that the appearance is the same.
Though they look alike, the most notable difference is the dough. Chinese baozi's dough is quite plain, while Japanese nikuman dough has a mildly sweet, milky taste that even surprises Chinese people.
The fillings and seasonings differ as well. Plus, Japanese nikuman are typically enjoyed as a snack or light meal, rarely as part of a meal.
Ingredients to make homemade Japanese steamed pork buns
Honestly, perfecting this recipe took lots of tries. The variety of spices might seem overwhelming, but trust me, it's easy to make. I'm especially confident that I have created a really great dough!
First, the ingredients needed for buns/dough are as follows:
- Weak/cake flour
- Strong flour (like bread flour)
- Dry yeast
- Baking powder
- Lukewarm water
The secret to fluffy bun dough is making it rise like a cake. Adding baking powder is crucial for this. Baking powder creates carbon dioxide gas when mixed with moisture and heat, making the dough fluffy and soft.
In my recipe, I use both baking powder and dry yeast. You can use dry yeast alone, but it takes longer than just using baking powder. Also, kneading with lukewarm water can promote the generation of carbon dioxide gas.
I also recommend adding milk, which not only makes the dough easier to chew, but also gives the buns a milky, slightly sweet flavor!
Next, the filling ingredients are as follows:
- Pork mince
- Boiled bamboo shoot
- Shiitake mushroom
- Wood ear mushroom
- Grated fresh ginger (or ginger paste)
- Grated garlic cloves (or garlic paste)
- Soy sauce
- Oyster sauce
- Miso paste
- Sesame oil
- Black vinegar
- White pepper
- Chinese chicken stock powder (I use Youki's chicken bouillon powder)
- Water + starch slurry (either potato starch or corn starch)
It's a long list of ingredients, but when you actually look at it, most of them are condiments. Up next, I'll share some alternatives to some of these particular ingredients.
Like I always say, you don't need the exact same ingredients to make my recipes. I rather believe that the essence of cooking is to adapt a recipe by substituting local ingredients or ingredients you can easily get in your area, if possible. Local production for local consumption is the best.
Still, some ingredients and condiments are essential. In this section, I will suggest some substitutes and alternatives for this recipe.
- Carrots instead of bamboo shoots - achieves a similar crunch.
- Your local or favourite mushroom for shiitake mushroom - all mushrooms have unique qualities, so why not experiment with different kinds?
- White wine or dry sherry for sake
- Rice vinegar or apple vinegar for black vinegar - a small amount of vinegar adds depth to the filling.
- Black pepper instead white pepper
- Regular chicken soup stock powder instead of Chinese chicken stock powder, while Western chicken soup stocks tend to be a bit more herby, it still create a delicious flavour in your filling!
Instructions on how to make nikuman at home
The list of instructions and ingredients might look long, but actually, nikuman is surprisingly easy to make at home! Here I will list my step by step instructions with pictures for an easy to follow guide, alternatively check out the printable recipe card at the bottom of the page!
Activate the yeast
Start by pouring warm water into a jug and then adding the dry yeast and sugar. Mix well and wait a few minutes for it to become foamy.
I recommend warming the milk slightly too, even if it's just to room temperature. (Cold milk might hinder the yeast.)
Make sure to warm water, not hot or cold water. The ideal temperature should be similar to a bath, about 40°C (100°F). If it's too hot, it can kill the yeast. Cold water might fail to activate it.
If after 5-10 minutes, the mixture hasn't formed any foam even though the water is the right temperature, this means that the yeast is damaged or expired and you will need to buy a new one.
Mix the dry ingredients
Sift the cake flour and strong flour into a large mixing bowl and add salt and baking powder. Mix well until all the ingredients are evenly distributed.
Form a dough
After the yeast has foamed up, make a well in the centre of the dry ingredients and pour the contents of the jug into the well. Add the milk here too.
Mix together to form a rough dough and tip it out onto a lightly floured surface.
Knead until smooth, place it back into the bowl and cover with plastic wrap. It's important to keep it covered since moisture in the air can affect the rise.
Leave it in a warm place to rise until it has doubled in size.
Depending on the room temperature, the dough will take between 40 and 90 minutes to rise.
Start by finely dicing all of the vegetables. They should be small enough that each ingredient spreads evenly throughout the filling, but big enough that they still have a bit of texture.
Heat a large pan on medium and add a drizzle of sesame oil. Add the vegetables and stir fry for 1-2 minutes.
Next, add soy sauce, oyster sauce, miso paste, black vinegar sake, sugar, honey, salt, pepper and Chinese chicken stock powder and cook until all the liquid has been absorbed into the mixture.
In a separate bowl, mix 1 tsp of potato starch (or corn starch) with 1 tbsp of cold water to make a slurry. Turn off the heat and pour the slurry into the pan, mix thoroughly until the mixture becomes slightly thickened and glossy.
Transfer the filling to a container and leave it to cool.
Mix the pork mince and lard in a mixing bowl. Once the vegetables are cool to the touch, add them to the bowl and mix until evenly distributed throughout the filling.
Cover with plastic wrap and place it in the fridge to rest until the dough is ready.
Shape the dough
Once the dough has doubled in size, knock the air out and roll it into a cylinder.
Cut the cylinder into approximately 60g (about 2oz) pieces.My recipe makes 4, but if you've doubled or tripled the recipe, cut it into 8 or 12.
Shape each piece so they're round and cover them with plastic wrap or a clean damp tea towel.
Allow to rest for 15 minutes. This resting time helps loosen the dough so that it's easier to shape.
Assemble the nikuman
Flatten out each piece of dough with your palm and then use a rolling pin to roll it flat to about 5mm (¼ inch) thick.
Use the rolling pin to thin out the edges all the away around. Since the top will be gathered, the edges should be thinner to prevent the top from becoming too thick and doughy. In other words, the centre should be about 5mm thick while the edges should be only be about 2mm thick.
Take the filling out of the fridge and divide it into equal portions (approx 60g/2oz each). Roll each portion into a rough ball and place it in the centre of the dough.
Now I will warn you that my method of folding is not an authentic way, but it's so easy that you can't fail! Even if you're a beginner, you can get this folding method on the first try!
Start by bringing the top and bottom edges to meet in the middle of the filling and pinch them together. Do the same with the left and right edges.
Then repeat diagonally with each pair of parallel corners.
To fully ensure the nikuman is sealed, twist the middle point.
This will also move the folds and improve the appearance!
Place each completed nikuman on a small piece of baking paper and then place inside the steaming basket.
Once they're all complete, add the lid and rest for another 15 minutes.
Be sure to leave enough space between each nikuman, including placing them at least 2cm (about 1 inch) away from the edges to prevent them from becoming misshapen and stuck together.
If doubling or tripling the recipe, either cook in batches or use multiple steaming baskets.
Once the 15 minutes resting time is up, fill a pot with (cold) water and place the steaming basket with the nikuman on top. Bring the water to a boil over a high heat and then once it's bubbling, turn the heat down to medium and set a timer for 13 minutes.
13 minutes of cooking starts once the water begins to boil.
By starting with cold water, the temperature is brought up gradually and the dough grows more smoothly. This prevents holes and the nikuman becoming misshapen.
Once the timer is up, remove the lid immediately (no need to wait!) and enjoy your freshly steamed homemade Japanese nikuman!
The first rule of storing nikuman is to cook it first. Freezing them before they're cooked can cause the dough to fail to expand and cause the skin to become tough when defrosted and steamed.
If you don't need to store the steamed buns for a long period of time, you can keep them in the refrigerator; however, for best flavor and texture, the storage period should be limited to 24 hours, and freezing is better for longer storage.
When stored in the fridge, the buns tend to lose moisture, causing dry and hard skin, so for the best texture, store in an airtight container and sprinkle with a little water before reheating.
Once cooked, allow the nikuman to cool and then wrap each one individually in plastic wrap before freezing.
Frozen nikuman can be stored for about one month.
As I mentioned, steam the buns before freezing them. After steaming, let them cool, wrap each one in plastic wrap, and freeze. When you're ready to eat, it is best to reheat them with a steamer, but you can also microwave them with a few drops of water in the plastic wrap. In this case, 600W for about 2 minutes is just right.
If frozen, nikuman can be stored for about one month.
Whether chilled or frozen, you can reheat nikuman either by steaming again or in the microwave. Steaming is the best method for keeping the original moist and fluffy texture, but microwaving is a great time saver.
For chilled, steam for 5-8 minutes or microwave for about 1 minute at 600W.
From frozen, steam for approximately 10 minutes or microwave for about 3 minutes at 500W.
When microwaving, create a steamer effect by adding about 2cm (1 inch) of water to a mug and place the nikuman on top. (Make sure the mug is small enough that the nikuman sits on the rim without falling.) Place plastic wrap over the nikuman and microwave for the appropriate amount of time.
I hope you enjoy making Japanese nikuman at home. If you try the recipe, let me know what you thought in the comments below! Happy cooking!
Nikuman (Japanese Steamed Pork Buns)
- 100 g cake flour
- 50 g bread flour
- 2 ½ tsp sugar
- ¼ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp dry yeast
- ½ tsp baking powder
- 50 ml water - lukewarm
- 25 ml milk - whole milk
- 100 g ground pork
- 1 tsp lard
- 50 g onion - finely diced
- 50 g boiled bamboo shoots - finely diced
- 30 g shiiitake mushrooms - finely diced
- 15 g wood ear mushroom - diced
- 1 tsp grated ginger - or ginger paste
- 1 tsp grated garlic - or garlic paste
- ½ tbsp soy sauce
- 1 tsp oyster sauce
- 1 tsp miso paste - awase
- ½ tbsp sesame oil
- 1 tsp black vinegar
- ½ tbsp sake
- 1 tsp sugar
- 1 tsp honey
- 1 pinch salt
- 1 pinch white pepper
- 1 tsp Chinese chicken stock powder
- Slurry - 1 tbsp cold water mixed with 1 tsp of potato starch
- Take a jug and add 50 ml water. Stir in 2 ½ tsp sugar and ¼ tsp dry yeast and leave to activate for a few minutes until foamy.
- Sift the 100 g cake flour and 50 g bread flour together into a bowl and add the ¼ tsp salt and ½ tsp baking powder. Mix well until the ingredients are evenly distributed.
- Pour the contents of the jug into the bowl (including the foam) and add 25 ml milk. Mix until a rough dough forms.
- Tip the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth (about 5 minutes).
- Place the dough back in the bowl and cover with cling film. Rest in a warm place until it doubles in size. (40-90 minutes depending on environment.)
- Heat a pan on medium and once hot, add ½ tbsp sesame oil.
- Add the 50 g onion , 50 g boiled bamboo shoots , 30 g shiiitake mushrooms , 15 g wood ear mushroom , 1 tsp grated ginger and 1 tsp grated garlic to the pan and fry for 1-2 minutes.
- Next, add ½ tbsp soy sauce, 1 tsp oyster sauce, 1 tsp miso paste, 1 tsp black vinegar, ½ tbsp sake, 1 tsp sugar, 1 tsp honey, 1 pinch salt, 1 pinch white pepper and 1 tsp Chinese chicken stock powder. Mix well and continue to cook until liquid has absorbed and disappeared into the ingredients.
- Mix the slurry in a small bowl. Turn off the heat and pour the slurry into the pan. Stir over the residual heat until the mixture becomes glossy and slightly thickened.
- Transfer to container and allow to cool.
- Once cool to the touch, mix in 100 g ground pork and 1 tsp lard.
- Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the fridge until the dough is ready.
- Once dough has doubled in size, knock the air out and roll it into a cylinder. Cut into equal pieces, each approximately 60g (2oz). (This recipe makes 4. If you doubled or tripled the recipe, divide into 8 or 12 respectively.)
- Shape each piece into a round disc shape, cover with cling film (or clean damp cloth) and rest for 15 mins.
- Take the filling out of the fridge and divide it into approximately 60g (2oz) portions for each wrapper.
- Place each ball of dough on a chopping board and flatten it with your palm. Then, use a rolling pin to thin out the edges. The centre should be about 5mm (¼ inch) thick and the edges should be about 2mm thick.
- Roll a portion of the filling and place it in the centre of the dough. Bring the top and bottom edges to the middle and pinch them together. Repeat with the left and right edges, then each pair of parallel corners. (See in post for pictures of how to do this.) Finally, pinch the middle and twist to firmly close the nikuman.
- Place each completed nikuman on an individual square of baking paper, then place them in the steaming basket. Be sure to leave plenty of space between each nikuman and the edges of basket.
- Add the lid on and rest for 15 minutes for the 2nd rise.
- After 15 minutes, fill the steamer with cold water and place the steaming basket with the nikuman on top. Place it on the stove and bring to a boil over a high heat. Once it starts to boil, set a timer for 13 minutes.
- Remove the lid and enjoy!
Is nikuman Chinese or Japanese?
Nikuman is the Japanese take on Chinese baozi, falling under the chuka (Japanese-Chinese cuisine) category. The main differences are the dough used for wrapping and the ingredients used in the filling.
What does nikuman mean?
Nikuman (肉まん) means "meat bun" in Japanese. These tasty steamed buns are filled with a delicious mix of ground pork, vegetables, and condiments. The name "nikuman" combines two Japanese words: "niku" (肉) for meat and "man" (まん) from "manju" (饅頭), which refers to a steamed bun.
How do you eat nikuman?
Here's how to enjoy nikuman: 1. Grab the nikuman with your hands. 2. Take a small bite, letting out hot steam and avoiding burns. 3. Savor the delicious meat and vegetable filling with each bite. 4. Enjoy nikuman as a tasty snack, appetizer, or light meal.
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