“Japanese Big Mac” Steamed Pork Belly Buns

As we have mentioned on this site in the past, the pork buns at Pai Men Miyake get into your head. A thick slice of braised, fatty, salty pork belly, nestled lovingly into a pillowy steamed bun, drizzled with gochujang mayonnaise and finished perfectly with a bit of soft lettuce and a tart slice of pickle will have the tendency to leave an impression. What else leaves an impression? That they cost $9 for an order of two. And if you’re dining with a companion, I dare you, dare you! to split an order and eat just one. Even for a light lunch, you’re in for almost $20 bucks before you’ve even had a beer.

As nice as it is to dine in at Pai Men Miyake on a cold Winter day, to wrap yourself up in the smell of noodles in such a cozy little space, with other similarly-minded people, that price point means that we’re not eating these buns nearly as often as we’d like. I thought I would take a stab at reverse-engineering them, at home.

Price Breakdown (Per Recipe)

Pork Belly: 1.5 pounds @ 5.99/lb = $8.98
Kosher salt (brine): 3.5 oz @ 0.03/oz = $0.11
Sugar (brine): 3.5 oz @ 0.04/oz = $0.14
Chicken broth: 3.5 oz @ 0.12/oz = $0.42
Yeast = $0.58 per 1/2 packet
Sugar: 1.4 oz @ 0.04/oz = $0.06
Oil: 0.45 oz @ 0.11/oz = $0.05
Salt: 0.1 oz @ 0.03/oz = $0.003
Flour: 1.2 oz @ 0.07/oz = $0.09
Mayonnaise: 2.1 oz @ 0.21/oz = $0.44
Sriracha Hot Sauce: 0.3 oz @ 0.49/oz = $0.15
Pickles: 1.2 oz @ 0.17/oz = $0.20
Lettuce: 0.6 oz @ 0.65/oz = $0.39

Total Per Recipe (12): $11.53
Total Per Serving (2): $1.92

I measured and weighed each ingredient carefully, and was surprised to find that I could get pretty close to these Momofuku-style buns right here at home, and for $1.92 per serving of two (the cost breakdown is at right). As much as we enjoy the service and relaxation that you would expect from a 369% markup, learning to make these little munchkins at home, eating as many as we want, and watching “The Price is Right” at the same time is nice, sometimes, too.

Oh, sure: they’re not made by a master chef. And I’m sure Sriracha and mayonnaise is a poor substitute for the sauce they are actually using at Pai Men. But I think if you give these a try, you might like ’em.

“Japanese Big Mac” Pork Belly Buns
Makes 12 buns

Ingredients (Dough):
Adapted from a recipe in Sunset

  • 1/2 package active dry yeast
  • 2 tablespoons + 2 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 cups + 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour

Method:

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water, and add sugar, oil, and salt. Let stand 15 minutes. Add flour and knead until smooth, about 10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place (about 80 degrees) until doubled in size, about two hours. Punch dough down, and cut into 12 equal pieces. Roll each piece into a slightly oval round, and roll out until thin, about 3″ long by 2″ wide. Brush top of each bun with oil, and fold in half. Place each bun on a 3×3 square piece of parchment or waxed paper, and let rise about 30 more minutes.

Ingredients (Pork and toppings):

  • 1.5 pounds pork belly, boneless and skinless
  • 1/2 cup kosher salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 4 1/2 cups water, divided
  • 1/2 cup chicken broth
  • 3 tablespoons mayonnaise
  • 1.5 teaspoons Sriracha
  • Boston lettuce, torn into small pieces
  • Sliced dill pickle chips

Method:

Brine pork by combining kosher salt, sugar, and 4 cups of the water. Place in sealed bag and refrigerate overnight, or at least 12 hours. Discard bringing solution, and place pork fat side up in small baking pan. Add 1/2 cup water, and 1/2 cup chicken broth. Cook, covered tightly in foil, for 2.5 hours at 300 degrees. Remove foil, and cook an additional 30 minutes at 450, or until fat turns golden in color. Let pork rest for 30 minutes, and then slice against the grain, into 1/4 inch slices. Before assembly, pork can be reheated in 350 degree oven for 10-15 minutes.

While pork cooks, combine mayonnaise and Sriracha in separate bowl, and get your lettuce all torn up.

Assembly:

In batches, place buns (including parchment or waxed paper) onto steamer rack over boiling water, making sure buns don’t touch. Cover tightly, and cook until buns puff up and are cooked through, about three minutes. Open bun, and add a healthy smear of the Sriracha mayo. Add slice of pork, a dab of lettuce, and a slice of pickle. Serve immediately.

Malcolm Bedell is co-author of the critically acclaimed "Eating in Maine: At Home, On the Town, and On the Road," as well as the taco-centric blog "Eat More Tacos," and the junk food-centric "Spork & Barrel." His contributions include Serious Eats, Down East, L.A. Weekly, The Guardian, and The Huffington Post and his food truck, "'Wich, Please," was named "Hottest Restaurant in Maine" for 2015 by Eater. Finally, he finds it very silly to be trying to write this in the third person.

11 Comments

    1. They were pretty exquisite, but shockingly filling…which must be why Pai Men only gives you two. I think you’d be hard-pressed to eat more than that, in a sitting.

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  1. You can thank Joe Ricchio for the “Japanese Big Mac” title as he was the one that coined the term. One critique…your sauce is 2-3 ingredients off.. and not overly sure I’d brine the pork in chicken stock–when I made these for Thanksgiving, I used David Changs recipe for the pork and it was a bit simpler of a brine.

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      1. Yes, I remember reading that term when he was first announcing the opening of Pai Men…I repeat it here, as other writers had (I thought) picked up on it and used it as well. It’s beautifully descriptive of the flavor of these little buggers. My sauce is wildly off base, for sure…but it does fine in a pinch, or if your palette isn’t wired for picking out Asian sauce ingredients, as mine is not.

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  2. I found that the biggest key was the Kewpie mayo… which you can buy @ sun oriental market on congress. It’s so insanely different than Hellman’s mayo–with the added bonus of MSG–and makes a big difference in the base. Sambal something or other was the spice aspect and sesame oil was that ‘i can’t quite put my finger on it’ component. I now use that sauce for just about any dipping need for any asian app I make @ home.

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  3. Awesome! I love the the “effit, I can make this myself” attitude. I also love the cost-per-ingredient breakdown. I’m sure it was a pain in the ass (math: not my fortΓ©, even with a calculator), but I hope it becomes a regular feature of these D.I.Y restaurant food entries…

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    1. Thanks Missy! Math is far, far from being my forte, as well (in fact, I am embarrassed to admit that I had to ask a friend to help check my work on this one), but I do think it’s interesting, sometimes, to see the cost breakdown of what you are actually eating. I think that, in the future, when we try and reverse-engineer dishes like this, yes, we will include a cost breakdown.

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