Being born in this weird and wonderful city of Hong Kong means I have grown up eating and loving a lot of Cantonese dishes, and many have evolved over time to become our very own staples.
Char Siu (or Cha Shao), a great example of the flexible dialect of Cantonese, is made up of 2 verbs, which can sometimes double as nouns just to confuse you. The first part means a fork, and this is no ordinary fork that you find on the dining table. The second part means roast or burn. Picure a long piercing fork that you would skewer through long strips of seasoned boneless pork, and roast in a covered oven over a charcoal fire, and you get the idea.
The choice of cut has a great impact on the texture of the barbequed pork. Typically 3 cuts are used and, depending on preference, one would specify how fatty they would like the meat to be. If you love your char siu tender, juicy, moist, and a little fatty, go for pork belly; a lean, meaty char siu, then pork loin will be your choice. If you like it somewhere in between (“half fat-thin”), pork butt.
There are hundreds, if not thousands, of Siu Mei shops around Hong Kong selling Chinese barbequed meats, roasted on spits over an open fire or a huge wood burning rotisserie oven. It creates a unique, deep barbeque flavour which gives this type of meats its name. And here is where we will find our favourite charred pork coated in maltose and dark marinate.
It is quite a sight to see all sorts of meat hanging in the window.
Every great Siu Mei master will have his own secret recipe for the over-night marinate, and here is one from my chef uncle adapted for home cooking (shhhhhh…). Unfortunately I have sworn to secrecy the exact proportion. If you ask me very nicely I may tell you in private…
Light soya sauce
Dark soya sauce
Chinese rose wine
White pepper powder
Char Siu is usually purchased whole or sliced and wrapped and taken home to be eaten on a bed of rice. If you prefer to eat-in, my latest go-to is surprisingly not known for its meat dishes but for Hong Kong style milk tea.
Lan Fong Yuen started as a little diner on Gage Street in Central in the heart of the wet market, and it branched out to Tsim Sha Tsui and now its latest outpost in the Macau Pier. As a new addition to its popular menu of creative dishes based on instant noodles (seriously), we can now enjoy the barbequed pork in an indoor Dai Pai Dong prepared by Mr Ng, ex-Siu Mei master of Dynasty Restaurant at Renaissance Harbour View Hotel.
Master Ng favours shoulder butt over other parts for his barbeque pork, and its juicy tender texture is oh-so addictive. There is also no glaring bright red colour found on the surface which is often a signal of cheap substitution of dark soya sauce and Hoisin sauce. It is just sweet enough from the glaze and perfectly charred at the right places.
The milk tea that I washed down this pork is legendary. It has been almost 60 years in the making, and definitely requires its own post. One cannot understand the local food culture in Hong Kong if one has not tried a cuppa of the milky velvety concoction.
Wing Hap Lung
Address: 392 Portland Street, Prince Edward, Kowloon
Tel: +852 2380 8511
Lan Fong Yuen
Address: Shop 304D, 3/F, Shun Tak Centre, 168-200 Connaugh Road Central, Sheung Wan, Hong Kong
Tel: +852 2517 7168
Pork cuts illustration by Bill Charmatz