Traditionally, ''mantou'', '''', and wheat noodles were the staple carbohydrates of the Northern Chinese diet, analogous to the rice which forms the mainstay of the Southern Chinese diet. Mantou are also known in the south, but are often served as street food or a restaurant dish, rather than as a staple or home cooking. Restaurant mantou are often smaller and more delicate and can be further manipulated, for example by deep-frying and dipping in sweetened condensed milk.
They are often sold pre-cooked in the frozen section of Asian supermarkets, ready for preparation by steaming or heating in the microwave oven.
A similar food, but with a filling inside, is baozi. In some regions, mainly in Southern China, ''mantou'' can be used to indicate both the filled and unfilled buns.
There is a popular story in China that the name Mantou actually originated from the identically-pronounced word ''mántóu'' meaning "barbarian's head".
This story originates from the Three Kingdoms Period, when the strategist Zhuge Liang led the Army in . After subduing the barbarian king Meng Huo, Zhuge Liang led the army back to Shu, but met a swift-flowing river which defied all attempts to cross it. A barbarian lord informed him that, in olden days, the barbarians would sacrifice 50 men and throw their heads into the river to appease the river spirit and allow them to cross; Zhuge Liang, however, did not want to cause any more bloodshed, and instead killed the cows and horses the army brought along and filled their meat into buns shaped roughly like human heads - round with a flat base - to be made and then thrown into the river. After a successful crossing he named the buns "barbarian's head" , which evolved into the present day ''mántóu'' .
Variations in meaning outside Northern China
Prior to the Song Dynasty, the word ''mantou'' meant both filled and unfilled buns. The term ''baozi'' arose in the Song Dynasty to indicate filled buns only. As a result, ''mantou'' gradually came to indicate only unfilled buns in and other varieties of spoken Chinese. In , mantuu are basically the same as the Chinese mantou.
However, in many areas ''mantou'' still retains its meaning of filled buns. In the Jiangnan region, ''mantou'' usually means both filled and unfilled buns .
The name ''mantou'' is cognate to ; these are filled dumplings in , , Central Asian, and Pakistani cuisines. In Japan, usually indicates filled buns, which traditionally contain bean paste or minced meat-vegetable mixture . Filled mantou are called siopao in . In Korea, means jiaozi .
How to make Banana Mantou
* 3 Eggs
* 125 g Sugar
* 300 g Mashed Bananas
* 225 g Flour
* 2 tsp Baking Powder
* 1 tsp Baking Soda
* 100 g Oil
* 1/8 tsp Banana Essence
Sift together flour, baking powder and baking soda, set aside.
Whisk together eggs and sugar till fluffy.
Mix in bananas and banana essence, beat till combine.
Fold in flour mixture and oil.
Pour batter into muffin cups.
Steam for 15 to 20mins till cooked.