To peel or not to peel?

Why do people peel the skin off pau before eating? PEGGY LOH unearths a squeamish possibility.

EVER wondered why people peel the skin of pau pastry before eating? This question popped up while my friends and I were enjoying a dim sum breakfast.

I had always thought it was for hygienic reasons because the pau may have been handled by less-than-clean hands. Some people don’t even bother to peel off the thin top layer, considering this a waste of time and effort.

Our discussion turned into a heated debate but I soon learned, to my horror, the reason why you should peel the pau.

Now digest this. To make pau, the dough is rolled and cut into pieces for stuffing and shaping into dumplings. Stuffed pau would be arranged on woven bamboo trays that will be stacked up on the steamer.

When a tray was about to be stacked for steaming, the pau maker would sprinkle the pau with water. It seems that in those days before handy pump sprinklers were invented, the pau maker would balloon his mouth with a gulp of water and flex his cheek muscles to expel a fine spray of water to moisten the pau!

Even though super-heated temperatures in the steamer should kill all kinds of bacteria, this bizarre final step was the reason why customers would peel off the pau skin before eating!

We dismissed our squeamish thoughts as we sank our teeth into the delicious dumplings and comforted ourselves that surely methods of preparation are updated now.  If you love pau, don’t let this story deter you though you may want to reconsider “to peel or not to peel?”

This article was first published in The New Straits Times, Travel Times on 21 December 2008

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