Delicious Asian pork knows no boundaries. We wax lyrical about our favourites in one spectacular article.
Pork is glorified in Asia. If one had to gauge the continent’s appetite for pork, just look at China. Pork filled dumplings are a beloved staple across the mainland. Even the written Chinese character for “home” depicts a pig inside a house. Outside of China, Southeast Asians enjoy every pork dish imaginable. Deep fried, stir-fried, stewed and grilled, pork in Asia has got most cooking techniques covered.
1. Sweet and Sour Pork
A favourite in Chinatowns across the world, Sweet and Sour Pork is the most anglicised pork dish from Asia. Caucasians easily associate these golden nuggets with Hong Kong, also known as the Pearl of the Orient.
As the all time favourite Cantonese dish, it is a unique mix of Eastern and Western cooking. Similar to popcorn chicken, pork is first deboned and cubed into bite-sized pieces, then deep fried till golden brown. The Asian spin comes in the form of a special sauce, stir-fried with white onions, pineapple pieces and tomato chunks.
The best renditions have marbled pieces of tender pork bites, drenched in a wicked sweet and sour sauce, then topped with a sprinkle of toasted sesame seeds. Suss them out at discreet family restaurants run by native Hongkongers. They usually offer a generous portion at a reasonable price. They also have the best dining experiences for one to savour a hearty meal.
2. Char Siew
Otherwise known as Chinese Barbecued Pork, Char Siew makes the daily cut on our Asian pork list. This fragrant variant tastes great with rice, noodles and everything in between. The charred black edges even add anticipation to biting into tender, white meats encased in a red exterior.
More importantly, Char Siew is a symbol of tradition. Since the pre-war era, Straits Chinese have long included barbecued meats as a modest treat. When something calls for a celebration, such as getting a pay rise at work, commemorating a Chinese festival or gathering at a family reunion, Char Siew is a great add on to the usual dinner ensemble.
Today, Char Siew’s versatility transcends the ages. It is a great starter, appetiser and main dish at restaurants. Those on a budget can also get a good dose of protein from this humble hawker fare. A perennial family favourite, kids love the sweet taste of honey coated barbecued pork. Char Siew is easy for old folks to stomach too. They also go well with a side of fatty roast pork, also affectionately known as Crispy Siew Yoke.
3. Elevated Tastes
Pork comes in different cuts. Combined with fancy cooking techniques, the variety of pork dishes available in Asia are endless. We can’t believe that pork is so versatile.
A deep fried pork rib marinated with Asian spices is fat, juicy and delicious.
A kurobuta pork chop grilled with pepper is even fatter, juicier and richer in taste.
A thick slab of black hog ribs will leave an indelible mark on any taste profile. Tender meats that tear off with ease, a smoke-grilled tingle and condiments that pack a punch all add up to a carnivorous eating experience.
4. Bak Kut Teh
Bak Kut Teh, commonly found in Singapore and Malaysia, has interpretations that vary from region to region. But the gist of it remains consistent: pork simmered for hours over a low fire.
If you don’t mind a lingering herbal taste, Bak Kut Teh is an iconic Asian broth. It is known for its nourishing ingredients and wellness enhancing properties. It also comes in a stewed, claypot rendition. Either way, the pork falls off easily, separating itself from the bones. Each bite opens the taste buds to a flavourful concoction of garlic, pepper, soy sauce and secret herbal ingredients.
Last but not least, Bak Kut Teh comes with a wide array of side dishes. These include pig kidneys, stomach, liver and intestines. Less adventurous diners can opt for a braised trotter, tofu, eggs and groundnuts.
5. Minced Pork with Thai Basil (Pad Krapow Moo Sap)
Available across Thailand, Pad Krapow Moo Sap is the most comforting pork-based dish in The Land of Smiles. The ingredients are simple. Minced pork, Thai basil leaves, frying oil, fish sauce, piping hot jasmine rice and a gooey sunny side up. The combination is delicious. I can never resist taking a picture before wolfing everything down.
Best paired with a lemongrass drink, Thai iced milk tea or refreshing coconut water, eating Pad Krapow Moo Sap is a joy. Crack open the wobbly egg yolk and watch it seep through the rice, oozing all over a pile of glistening, fresh minced pork. When you savour the proteins that are fried perfectly with Thai ingredients, the subtle fish sauce hits, then explodes with a hint of fragrant basil leaves. If you fancy spicy food, ask to add red chillies that will pack a punch.
Be careful. It is difficult to get the right balance of flavours. Some may come with residual frying oil, while others are generous with chopped garlic in the pork. Nonetheless, this illusive Thai dish is usually the cure for a hangover. Fresh out of the wok, the smell of fried minced pork always whets a drunkard’s appetite. It is also best paired with fluffy, steamed rice, topped with an egg with a runny yolk.
Images by ShuQi Liu