How immigrants are redefining 'American' in Southern California

Bao, empanadas, and the Pillsbury Doughboy

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Over the weekend I saw a couple of amusing tweets from @jenny8lee, aka journalist Jennifer 8. Lee, the former New York Times reporter turned author of The Fortune Cookie Chronicles and a general food fan. The first, on Saturday:

Was my mom the only Chinese mom to use Pillsbury dough for the oustide of steamed bao buns?

The second, on Sunday:
My mom, who apparently reads my twitter feed, said she learned the pillsbury dough as bao outside trick from Chinese newspaper.

Aside from making me chuckle, the tweets provoked an immediate reaction of "Wow, so it's used for more than empanadas?"

The plump, doughy meat-filled buns, popular in Chinese and Vietnamese cuisines, and the savory turnovers eaten throughout Latin America are probably just a few of the alternative uses that immigrant cooks, as pressed for time as anyone else, have devised for the ubiquitous refrigerated biscuit dough over the years.

A quick search around the Pillsbury website led me to the history of the Pillsbury Bake-Off contest, and with it, this paragraph describing the contest's evolution during the 1990s:

Ethnic Fusion Reigns

By the 1990s, recipes entered in the Pillsbury Bake-Off® Contest reflected a fusion of ethnic flavors with traditional American cooking. Tastes had grown more international, and formerly unusual ethnic and "gourmet" ingredients and flavors had entered the mainstream.

Hmm. The contest recipes weren't posted on the page, which is okay, since "gourmet" might not be the ideal descriptor in every case. But for anyone who wants to try this at home, there are plenty of homegrown recipes out there, like these for pork picadillo empanadas and "cheater's baos" made with the canned buttermilk biscuit dough. Who would have thought?
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