‘Mantou’ , a circle steam dough with a soft taste, can be considered as a dish that Chinese people can eat in every meal and also a dessert in China New Year and other auspicious ceremonies. Did you know that mantou has an amazing back story and origin. What is the story about mantou like? ACU PAY will tell you.

The story of white steamed dough is based on a book called The Origin of Things that was written in the Northern Song Dynasty (1127 – 1279 A.D.) It gave a lecture on the history of Mantou during the Warring States period (220 – 280 A.D.), during the Three Kingdoms Period.

At that time, the indigenous people who lived in the south were called ‘Nanman’ (蛮南), meaning ‘the southern savages’. This group of people was always making a fuss and always wanted to raise an army to attack Su Province. One day, Zhuge Liang, the state’s brilliant political strategist, came out to defeat the savages and eventually won and took back prisoners of war.

But on the way back, when Zhuge Liang’s army had to cross the Lu Sui River (or Jinsha River), there was strong wind causing strong currents. The villagers told the troops to use human heads as a sacrifice for the god of the river. It will make them cross the river safely.

The soldiers proposed that Zhuge Liang cut off the Nanman heads to worship the gods, but Zhuge Liang did not want to kill innocent people just by offering sacrifices. He ordered the soldiers to kill a kind of animal. Then, put meat into a dough that is round like a human head and cook it for sacrifice instead of savages’ heads.

After that, the army was able to cross the river safely. Then, this food was called ‘Mantou’ meaning ‘the head of the nanman’ but with its original name that had a scary and violent meaning, it was renamed ‘Mantou’ using Chinese characters related to food instead.

Another possible story about Mantou is in a medicine book written by Uighur doctors of the Yuan Dynasty (1279 – 1368). The Mongol Emperor, whom he served (who is a direct descendant of Genghis Khan), mentioned a mantou shaped like a dumpling. In the early days, there were fillings like steamed dumplings, which is called the present time. At that time, the characteristics of the mantou had a variety of colors and tastes such as meat fillings, bamboo shoot fillings, and various plant fillings.

Until the Qing Dynasty (1636 – 1912), the name of Mantou was subdivided. The northern people often call the steamed dough without fillings ‘Mantou’ and ‘steamed dumplings’ for the dough with fillings, but the southern people call a dough with fillings as ‘Mantou’, but if there are no fillings, it’s called ‘Ta Paozu’ (Big steamed dumpling).

This is the origin of delicious steamed buns. Nowadays, there are many different types of buns, whether steamed, dipped in condensed milk, or fried to have a golden yellow color, topped with chocolate sauce. How do you like it? Don’t forget to tell me how you like it!

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