In Hawaii we call it manapua, but to the rest of the world, it’s a char siu bao, or BBQ pork bun, either way… it’s delicious and I went around Honolulu in search of the best manapua! I’m very lucky because I work just blocks away from Chinatown in downtown Honolulu so my search didn’t take me far. Take a look at some of the places I visited.
Royal Kitchen – (TAPG Rating: B)
Royal Kitchen is at the end of Chinatown in the Chinese Cultural Plaza on the Beretania Street side. They are known for their baked manapua and they usually have lines out the door of their small kitchen shop. What I like about their manapua is the texture of the bun, even though it’s baked, the bun retains a its softness and has an airy quality to it. The filling is a good amount, but is a little too sweet for my taste. The manapua, in general, is very “light”.
Char Hung Sut – (TAPG Rating: A)
If you don’t pay close attention, you may miss Char Hung Sut in Chinatown – only a tiny sign outside distinguishes it from the other buildings. And once inside, it looks like you’ve walked into a manapua factory (which, really… you have!) Only the counter in the middle of the room with a cash register is an indication that customers fill this factory daily to buy manapua.
Char Hung Sut only makes steamed manapuas (no baked here), but they are probably one of the best around. The manapua itself is HUGE! (See photo above in relation to my hand!) The bun is steamed to perfection and is pillowy soft and just a little sweet. What I love about it is the meat filling – there is A LOT of filling in each bun and the filling is tasty, sweet, and not greasy at all! The manapua in general has a bit of a heavy, denser feel to it which I like. It certainly fills you up!
Sing Cheong Yuan Bakery – (TAPG Rating: A-)
I passed Sing Cheong Yuan as I was doing my first round of manapua tasting. I made a mental note to come back to try their manapuas and then a co-worker told me it was her favorite so I HAD to come back!
They make a baked manapua that is SO HUGE in size and SO FILLED with meat filling that it’s more than a full breakfast for me (in fact it was breakfast and part of lunch!!) The thing that’s great about it is their meat to bun ratio – just look at that photo above, the filling was just spilling out of it. The filling is also very sweet, and tasty and the char siu is not shredded like other places! They are actually in chunks! I’d never heard of this place before I started research for this blog post and I’m very thankful I found it!
Honolulu Kitchen – (TAPG Rating: B-)
Honolulu Kitchen in Waipahu (yes, I ventured out of Honolulu for this place!) specializes in deep fried mini manapuas. They have tons of sweet and savory flavors like crab cream cheese, apple pie, pizza, oreo cookie, cheeseburger, chocolate chip pudding (whaaaat??!) lychee, etc. I love that they are so adventurous with their manapua flavors, and I love the crispiness of the deep fried outer shell, but the fillings I found were not as tasty as I had originally hoped. Still it’s VERY interesting and a great novel idea!!
Lee’s Bakery – (TAPG Rating: B)
Lee’s Bakery is known for their array of terrific baked goods – especially their famous custard pie that people will line up for hours for on Thanksgiving! Little known is the fact that they make manapua. Their baked manapua has a good, solid texture to their bun (which, sadly, is not as tasty as some others I’ve tried). The filling has more of a bbq-ish taste to it and the whole manapua in general has more of a baked good taste to it than a manapua. Still a pretty solid manapua choice in Chinatown.
U Choice In – (TAPG Rating: A-)
U Choice is in the Don Quixote shopping complex on Kaheka Street. They sell a wide variety of Chinese food plates and made to order noodle dishes, but they have a counter that only sells manapua, roast pork, roast chicken, and other dim sum items. I discovered this place when I used to work at the Kapiolani branch of my company many years ago.
U Choice has both baked and steamed manapua, however, they only had steamed ones left the day that I was there. I like that their buns are soft and mildly sweet, but the thing that sets U Choice apart is their meat filling! It’s exceptional! It’s very savory, and there is A LOT in each bun. The only downside (if this is even one…) is that the steamed buns don’t separate too well from the paper at the bottom and sometimes in my haste to eat it, I will rip the paper and end up biting into some of it at some point, but that’s probably more of my fault than theirs. Bottom line: Yummy manapuas here, take care in removing the paper at the bottom! 🙂
Chris Bakery – (TAPG Rating: C+)
Chris Bakery is located in the heart of Chinatown and is a little bakery that sells a variety of dim sum items. Their manapuas are baked and are HUGE! (Too bad you can’t see scale on the photo above!) Their buns are a little darker baked than I’m used to, and the meat filling is in a dark-ish sauce, which is surprisingly not too sweet (more on the savory side…) The thing I wished was that there was more meat in the bun. I’m sure they make some really great items, but I wasn’t a huge fan on their manapua.
Libby’s – (TAPG Rating: A+)
Libby’s is a small manapua shop in Kalihi a little outside of the hustle and bustle of downtown Chinatown. Their manapua is steamed, but the bun is soft, fluffy, and sort of chewy – which is a surprisingly great texture! In fact, it’s one of the things I love most about it! The bun itself is very tasty (a little bit oily, but that’s totally alright!) and the filling is plentiful and probably the best that I’ve tasted! It’s not as dense as Char Hung Sut, and not as light as Royal Kitchen, but very happily somewhere in the middle. 🙂
A little disclaimer (I am a compliance officer, after all… ) 😉 — I might be a tiny bit biased, however, because eating a Libby’s manapua reminds me of my childhood. Whenever we went to Hilo to visit my relatives, my Mom would bring along a box of Libby’s manapua as omiyage (gifts when one travels…) and so I grew up with it as a standard in my mind. But that being said… eating it again after a long hiatus, and this time as an adult, I realized that my Mom hit the jackpot early on. It really is STILL my favorite manapua in Honolulu!
Chun Wah Kam – (TAPG Rating: B-)
Chun Wah Kam has a selection of great Chinese food both for plate lunches and catering. I remember their noodles being something dreams are made of… But I went in recently to specifically try their baked char siu manapua and I was rather surprised at what I found…. The bun was nice and sweet, but had a really porous texture and was almost eggy and was not the softest. The meat filling was good – it was mixed with green onions and was pleasantly sweet. They also have a great meat to bun ratio, but the bun was a little too porous and not soft enough for my taste.
Bread House Bakery – (TAPG Rating: B)
Bread House Bakery is a small, cute bakery in Chinatown. They have many glass cases filled with baked good – one of them is the char siu manapua. The manapua itself was very pretty and baked to a perfect light golden color. The bun had a very nice texture and was very tasty! The meat filling was a little on the salty side and was not of the traditional char siu variety, it was more of a stewed meat filling. Still, it was VERY tasty – I just wish they put a little more meat filling in the bun.
Golden Palace – (TAPG Rating: A)
Although the manapua from Golden Palace is smaller in size, they are some of the best that I have tried. The bun is very sweet with a really soft, chewy texture and the tops of them are glazed with honey – which really makes them heavenly. They have a good amount of filling which is sweet and very tasty. And because they are on the smaller side, I could eat several of them,… in succession… Ooops!
Dim Sum House – (TAPG Rating: B-)
I decided to try Dim Sum House because I loved their other dim sum items in the past and thought I’d give a more traditional place a try. First off, the char siu bao here is more of the traditional type (steamed in bamboo containers and semi-open at the top.) They are sold in threes and are so cute and tiny. (See photo above for scale – noting that my Asian hand is already quite tiny to begin with….) The bun was so light and soft, it was almost as if you were eating air…I wish it had a little more flavor to it, but that’s okay… The filling was juicy and very sweet. It might be a little unfair of me to judge these in a “manapua” category as they are more traditional and should be rated against other char siu baos, but it was mentioned by a co-worker, so I felt I should include it. For a traditional bao, it was pretty good.
So there you have my list of favorite manapua places in Honolulu. What is YOUR favorite manapua place? Please let me know in the comments.
Note: All photos taken by Sheri (aka Tiny Asian Pastry Girl)