Fans of Pixar movies are accustomed to watching creative and poignant short films before their feature presentation. The Pixar short “Bao,” shown in theaters before animated hit “Incredibles 2,” is a little different than the more traditional short offerings.
“Bao” tells the story of a lonely Chinese-Canadian mother who finds a way to fill her empty nest when a seemingly magical dumpling comes to life. The film was drawn from the personal experience of director Domee Shi, herself Chinese-Canadian, and the first woman ever to direct a Pixar short. No spoilers, but the short ends on a note that has some viewers fighting back tears, but others wondering what exactly they just watched.
Whatever your thoughts of “Bao” as a short film, it’s likely to make you hungry for dumplings, those plump little treasures that are so tough to resist. Sure, you could hit up your neighborhood’s best dumpling joint, but if you want to go home and make your own little “Bao,” now there’s a roadmap.
In a Facebook post shared on August 3, “Bao” director Shi created a delightful illustrated version of her own mother’s recipe for making homemade bao. It’s a nine-step process, if you don’t count eating (or adopting) the bao you’ve just made. Shi’s winning illustrations bring not only the process, but the dumpling to life, just as she did onscreen. And in a cute series of panels that most adult children will relate to, Shi tries to talk her mother into formalizing her recipe into cups and tablespoons rather than “handfuls” and “bits.”
Shi’s mother, Ningsha Zhong, came to Pixar twice during the making of the film to give dumpling-making classes, so her process could be properly transferred to the film.
“We recorded her exact motions, her hands kneading and folding the dough,” Shi told the San Francisco Chronicle. “Animating food is super tricky because it’s organic, not rigid or structural. And everyone in the world is an expert in what good food looks like.”
If “Bao” has you craving dumplings beyond the ones you can make with Shi’s recipe, check out this guide to the 11 best Chinese dumplings, and how to tell them apart.