If every plate of food tells a story, then a serving of steamed pork buns at Kyūbi Modern Asian Dining located within the Campbelltown Catholic Club relays an ancient tale of Mongolian warfare dating back to 220-280 CE.
“The bread of the pork bun is the story of this dish,” says the culinary director of Campbelltown Catholic Club, Peter Sheppard.
“The bun is all about being light and fluffy. It’s said that this dough structure was what made the buns so convenient that the Mongols could put them in their bags while they were riding a horse all day.”
As the Chinese legend goes, Mongol soldiers – led by Zhuge Lang – took mantou with them as they travelled to fight against the Nanman forces in the southern lands of Shu (now Yunnan, China and Myanmar).
“They say that, because it was so cold, the Mongols used to keep mantou warm during the day by storing them in their armpits. But we don’t do that here,” jokes Sheppard.
Steamed bun folklore describes how one day the Shu army couldn’t cross a fast-flowing river. Liang believed the solution was to appease the river deity, which required the heads of 50 men to be thrown into the water. To protect his men and trick the gods, Liang ordered his soldiers to kill their livestock and stuff the meat into a round bun with a flat base, shaped like a human head. The army then filled then threw the ‘fake heads’ into the water and successfully crossed the river.
Sheppard, whose career heading kitchens specialising in Asian cuisine for over a decade is also a lover of the food and mythology. He tells SBS that this story inspired his modern interpretation of the steamed pork bun, served at the restaurant
“I wouldn’t say the buns look like heads anymore because they have evolved from that. [Over the years], the dish has changed from what would have been quite a poor person’s meal, featuring a lot of dough and a little bit of meat."
The white, flat ‘head-shaped’ steamed bun – made with rice flour and a touch of wheat flour for flexibility – wraps around a massive chunk of pork belly flavoured with star anise, Szechuan pepper, cinnamon and coriander seed, and slow cooked for 12 hours. The result is a tender, succulent and comforting mouthful.
Kyūbi’s dance with food mythology also extends to the restaurant’s branding, as the venue is named after Japan’s mythical ‘nine tail fox’. Management explains that the nine tails represent the multiplicity of Asian cultures featured in the menu. Although the tasting and a la carte menus – designed to share – change often, they typically boast the flavours and influences of Vietnam, China, Singapore, Malaysia, Myanmar, Japan and Thailand.
Many of their other dishes also intertwine a bit of modern mythology, boasting a personal connection to Sheppard and his culturally diverse team, some with Nepalese, Mauri and Vietnamese backgrounds. Dishes like pan-fried Shanghai soup dumplings (xiao long bao) whose history is said to be attributed to Chinese Emperor Qianlong from the 1700s, and momos – a menu inclusion from a Nepalese employee in the kitchen – all emphasise the connection between food and storytelling at Kyūbi.
The modern Cantonese items are reminiscent of family meals Sheppard shared with his parents when they lived in Singapore. That’s why the slow cooked and char-grilled pure-blood, hand-reared Angus beef short rib topped with black pepper is another one of his favourites.
Contemporary folklore also surrounds the bulgogi Korean lamb ribs with pickled vegetables and smoked chilli. Sheppard explains he put the dish on the menu after a Korean staff member’s mother came into the restaurant with a lunchbox filled with home-cooked bulgogi ribs for the chef to try because the menu didn’t have a Korean inclusion at the time.
“She used beef and now, we use lamb to give our menu a little variance but the idea is the same. She still visits the restaurant so I’ve taken that as her tick of approval.”
Level 1, Campbelltown Catholic Club
20-22 Camden Road, Campbelltown, NSW, 2560
Lunch: Friday – Sunday, 12-3 pm | Dinner: Wednesday – Sunday, 6-9 pm
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