Japanese Meat Buns (Nikuman)
26 Apr 2020

Japanese Meat Buns (Nikuman)

26 Apr 2020

I’ve always loved Japan, their wonderful country, culture and food. Oftentimes when I visit a konbini like Lawson or Family Mart I’d stare longingly at the selection of steamed buns, especially the nikuman, and wonder what they taste like. Of course I’ll never know for real, as they are most certainly made of pork and are therefore out of bounds for me.

Since I’ve been making steamed buns of late, it finally hit me. Why didn’t I think of making my own (permissible) nikuman sooner? Thanks to the Internet I found a few recipes for reference, and I finally got around to making my own Japanese meat buns.

I wanted something a bit more fatty to substitute for the pork, so I used chicken thigh/leg meat instead of store-bought minced chicken. I’ve also used rice vinegar with some added sugar as a substitute for mirin.

The result is a mild flavored meat bun, very different from the flavor-packed Chinese buns like the char siew buns I made. Nonetheless they are still very yummy, perfect for those rainy afternoons. Since it’s Ramadan, they are also perfect for sahur, since we have a bunch of small eaters in this family of mine.

Based on the recipe by Cooking With Dog.

Japanese Meat Buns (Nikuman)


  • 1 recipe pau dough, use sesame oil instead of cooking oil, and use the liquid from the mushrooms and dried shrimp in place of water/milk
  • 300 grams boneless, skinless chicken thighs, finely minced
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon Kikkoman soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon oyster sauce
  • 1 tablespoon rice vinegar
  • 1/4 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons potato starch
  • 200 grams (about 3) cabbage leaves, steamed for 1 minute, drained well and finely chopped
  • 80 grams Chinese leek, white part only, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon (about 15 grams) fresh ginger, grated
  • 4 dried shiitake mushrooms, washed and soaked overnight, drained well and finely chopped, reserve liquid
  • 10 grams dried shrimp, washed and soaked for 1 hour, drained well and finely chopped, reserve liquid


Make the filling. In a large mixing bowl, add the chicken, salt, pepper, sugar, soy sauce, oyster sauce, rice vinegar, five-spice powder and sesame oil. Stir lightly in one direction only.

Add the potato starch and stir until combined.

Add the cabbage, leek, ginger, mushrooms and shrimp, and mix evenly. You can either use a kitchen mixer or stir using a wooden spoon in one direction only.

Divide the mixture into 16 equal portions. Shape each portion into a ball.

Arrange in a large plate or platter, and keep refrigerated until ready to assemble the buns.

Prepare the dough. Divide the dough into 16 equal pieces.

Prepare 16 pieces of plain paper or reusable silicone baking sheets, about 8cm by 8cm square. Arrange them in your steamer basket, leaving some space in between.

Working with one piece at a time, covering the remaining dough with a damp towel, shape and roll the dough into a tight ball. Repeat for the remaining dough.

On a floured surface, working with one piece at a time, flatten the dough with the palm of your hand.

Using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough into a 1/4-inch thick disc.

Place your rolling pin on about 1/3 of the disc from the top. Roll outwards. Turn the disc about a quarter turn, and repeat. Repeat until you have a disc with a thinner outer ring but still about 1/4 inch thick in the centre. Repeat for the remaining dough.

Place a ball of filling in the center of the dough.

Pleat to seal. Here’s my favorite video on how to do this nicely.

Place on your prepared paper squares in the steamer basket. Repeat for the remaining dough. Let rest, covered, about 15 minutes.

While the buns are resting, prepare your steamer. Add 3 to 4 inches of water in your pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low, just enough to sustain the water at boiling point.

Before steaming the buns, lightly spray them with water.

Place the steamer basket over your pot, cover tightly with a lid and steam, 15 to 18 minutes.

Do not open the lid and let the buns rest undisturbed for about 3 minutes after turning off the heat. This will prevent them from collapsing. If you are unable to steam all the buns in one go, place the remaining buns in the fridge, covered, until they are ready for steaming.


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