Tag Archives: hokkien

Hokkien soya sauce braised pork belly

I have no idea how I ended up cooking this for dinner tonight, but gosh I’m glad I did. This dish (in hokkien is called tau yew bak – literally translated, soya sauce pork) is one I haven’t had for maybe 20 years and the cool thing is eating it took me right back to when I was a little girl and my mum made it for me.

I think I just fancied some comfort food, and this dish, which is essentially pork belly that is stewed for 2 hours in a combination of soya sauce and spices like cinnamon and star anise, is warmingly melt-in-your mouth tender and is yummy served simply with rice.

Living in Singapore, I also tend not to cook Chinese food because access to top notch Chinese food is so easy here. And there is also the variety of different Chinese cuisines, from Hokkien or Peranakan (which is my heritage) to Cantonese (which is what I grew up with in Sydney), to Hakka, Peking, Hainanese…you name it.

The problem with eating out is that it’s tough to get brown rice unless it’s at some organic, vegetarian, peace-loving-type restaurant, and the most authentic food is just not served in places like this. My palate has been trained to like white rice with Chinese dishes, so my recipe below might be ridiculously simple, but it was a way for me to enjoy eating rice, with a 50% good component with the mix of brown rice. I just had to get over one of the basics of cooking rice – not to stir it around, ending up in mushy rice – and working out the logistics of different water and time ratios of cooking the two types together.

The recipe below is my rough guide on measurement – it’s a forgiving dish and doesn’t need to be precise so add more or less to taste

Ingredients makes enough to serve 4

  1. 300-400g pork belly, cut into 2cm strips
  2. 4-6 cloves garlic
  3. 1 stick of cinnamon
  4. 1 star anise
  5. 1 tsp black peppercorns
  6. 1 tbl Chinese five spice powder
  7. 1/4 cup dark soya sauce
  8. 2 tbl light soya sauce
  9. 2 tbl sugar (or to taste)
  10. 1-2 cups water
  11.  1-2 hard boiled eggs

Method

  1. Blanch pork in boiling water and cook for 5 minutes to remove any impurities. Drain well. Discard the water
  2. In a claypot or a saucepan, heat up some oil and add the pork, garlic, cinnamon, star anise, peppercorns and five spice and fry until fragrant and the pork has browned
  3. Add the soya sauces and sugar and bring to boil for about 5 minutes until the sauce thickens and the sugar begins to caramelise
  4. Add the water, bring to boil, cover and reduce heat to a gentle simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Again the amount of sauce is personal. Some like it sticky and almost dry (me), some like it with quite a lot of sauce
  5. About 30 minutes before serving, add the boiled eggs
  6. Serve with rice and vegetables
  7. For my mix of 50/50 white/brown rice, add 2 cups boiling water to 1/2 cup of brown rice and simmer for 25 minutes. Then add 1/2 cup of rinsed white rice, stir, cover and simmer for an additional 20 minutes

Penang Road Cafe

Char kway teow 

My mum’s back  in Singapore, and even though she is stopping over to visit en route to Penang, she still nodded enthusiastically when I told her that I had read a review of Penang Road Cafe and would like check it out with her.  It seems that the fate of every person from Penang is the endless pursuit of authentic Penang fare, no matter where they are.

As you enter the cafe, you are enveloped by the smell of spices and wok hei. Wok hei, literally translated is “wok air” and it is the flavour, tastes and “essence” that you get from frying your food in a very hot wok.  It’s a term that is often used to describe dishes like fried flat rice noodles (char kway teow) and fried noodle enthusiasts often rank the dishes according to this, as it reflects on the expertise of the chef and also the authenticity of the food.

There is a very limited menu, which makes deciding very easy, and to me, makes me think that they specialise in a few dishes, and (hopefully) do them well. And they sure do, here.

Penang hokkien mee

As a starter we ordered loh bak – strips of pork, marinated in chinese five spices, mixed with onion and water chestnuts and then rolled in tofu skin and deep fried. I can only think of why I have no photo of this is because it was so delicious that I was too busy eating it ! Melt in your mouth crispy on the outside, juicy and sweet inside, all it was missing was the thick dipping sauce that I am used to it being served with. At Penang Road Cafe, they serve it with a simple chilli and ginger sauce, which adds a nice heat to the dish.

The char kway teow – a classic Penang dish of wok-fried thick flat rice noodles with bean sprouts, prawns, chives, egg and chinese sausage and cockles – came next. Definitely where the wok hei aroma came from, with the noodles charred and crispy edged and the overall dish permeated with a delicious smoky flavour.  We ordered the special, which came with more prawns and cockles and also crab meat.  Not sure if the addition of crab meat worked here – if it ain’t broke…This dish is one of the standards of which many people rate entire restaurants/cafes just because anyone can fry noodles, but only a few can do them like this, and do them well.

The third dish that we ordered was the Penang Hokkien mee – rice vermicelli and yellow noodles served in a rich pork and prawn broth. Again, this is one of those dishes that is very popular and quite difficult to find where the stock is not “boosted” with sugar and MSG, leaving you thirsty for hours after eating it.  The hokkien mee at Penang Road Cafe was great – you get a mouthful of broth that is both savoury and sweet from hours of slow cooking the pork bones and prawns.

We would be so happy to go back there again to work through the menu – only so that we can run out of dishes and start at the beginning again !

Penang Road Cafe
275 Thomson Road
#01-08, Novena Ville
Tel: 62563218, 97862079

11.30am to 2.30pm
5.45pm to 9.15pm
Closed Mondays


Ng Ah Sio bak kut teh

Ng Ah Sio Signature bak kut teh with you tiao and liver and kidney soup

Ng Ah Sio serves traditional Teochew bak kut teh. Literally translated, this means pork rib tea.  The reality is a bowl of pork ribs simmered for hours to make a complex and delicious soup full of flavour and spices and herbs, predominantly garlic and pepper, served with hot tea.

The other type of bak kut teh is the Hokkien variety (there are various stories of which variation is the original between Teochew and Hokkien) which uses dark soya sauce as well as the addition of other spices like star anise and cloves to the stock to produce a sweeter, almost medicinal herbal stock.

I remember the Hokkien style from my childhood but have to admit it’s been a long time since I’ve tasted it – perhaps it’s time that I attempt to cook it 🙂

Kung Fu tea

But I digress – bak kut teh is traditionally a breakfast meal, although there are often people enjoying this dish as supper around Singapore at the 24 hour bak kut teh restaurants.  Ng Ah Sio opens at 6am and closes at 2pm, and I had the luxury of being able to take my dad there for breakfast this morning.

The shop is located in a quiet part of Rangoon Road and it was lovely to be able to sit down, relax and enjoy the food and just catch up with my dad in the relative cool of the morning.  By the time we left at 10.30 the place was full and I assume it will only get busier towards lunch time.

The menu is limited – they only do a few dishes…very very well.  We ordered the prime rib soup (which comes with soup top-ups if you ask for it), a liver and kidney soup, which comes in a more subdued and sweeter stock than the pork rib stock and you tiao – Chinese donuts.

It’s one of those dishes which is really difficult to describe other than if you like pork and pepper and garlic, it’s a must-try.  The tea is a must, to help neutralise the fat in the soup and cleanse the palatte.  It’s served out of old ceramic teapots with a large kettle of boiling water next to the table for you to refill, and drink out of traditional teeny tiny tea cups.  Enough to hold one sip of the strong tannic tea.

A million bowls have been served since 1988 in their current location – they’ve got to be doing something right.  Their site seems to be down but there’s a cached version of the history which is below if you’re interested in the history and evolution of this famous eating house.

Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House
208 Rangoon Road
tel: +65 6291 4537
Opening hours: Tue–Sun: 6am – 2pm
(Closed on Mon)

History
As one of the pioneers of this now famous dish, Mr Ng Siak Hai’s (nickname: Ng Ah Sio’s) father – Mr Ng Mui Song, began plying the pork-based, peppery herbal soup cooked in a distinct Teochew style in the 1050s at the current River Valley and Hill Street vicinity.  These early servings of the bak kut teh was accompanied by Chinese donuts (you tiao) and a strong brew of Chinese tea and there was no chilli and soya sauce dips.  One of the common beliefs of the origins of bak kut teh is rooted in the early days of the Republic’s founding where large numbers of young men migrated from China to work as coolies at the godowns by the historic Singapore River.  As their jobs involved much physical hardship and their meagre salaries could ill-afford the luxury of meat then, they used the bones of pork to brew their soups as a form of nourishment.

It is said that the Teochew labourers came up with the original version of the bak kut teh and their legendary stamina and strength after taking it soon led to other groups of Chinese coolies making the same with variations in the types of herbs added.

On 1 December, 1977, with an initial crew of seven workers, Mr Ng Siak took over from his father at his retirement and began serving the crowds at new World Amusement Park (current Kitchener Road) with an improved recipe that further enhanced the aroma of pepper in the soup, which is more robust than the original, while retaining many of the hall-mark use of fresh pork ribs, garlic and a secret blend of herbs.  He named his shop Ng Ah Sio Pork Ribs Soup Eating House.  It is this unique robust flabour that many have come to associate Ng Ah Sio with, and his team of workers soon increased to 18 to cope with the surging numbers of people looking to fulfill their craving for this invogorating version of Singapore’s heritage dish.

Since moving to Rangoon Road on 15 March 1988, over a million bowls of this classic heritage dish have been served.  Ng Ah Sio as a brand has since become synonymous with the dish.  It remains a firm favourite with both locals and foreigners and this is the place many would come to savour a truly original bowl of bak kut teh, served with chilli, soya sauce and many other accompanments for the ultimate enjoyment of this dish.


Penang buffet at Copthorne Kings Hotel

Nasi lemak – coconut rice with chilli anchovies and peanuts

Whenever my parents visit me in Singapore, there’s always a line-up of peranakan food.  My grandmother was nonya, and my mother craves the food she grew up with in Penang.  There are a handful of Malaysian restaurants in Sydney, but there isn’t the demand for Sydney to import a few of the spices and herbs that you need to make it authentically Penang cuisine.

Today I took them to the Kings Hotel where there is a Penang buffet – so not just Malaysian, which encompasses Malay, nonya, maybe even Indian – this is pure nonya food.  And what a spread it is.  It’s not the most glamourous places to eat – the hotel looks a bit dated from the newer hotels, but the food is so good, I visibly watched my mum eat herself into a stupor.

The variety on offer is huge and the buffet-style means you can sample a little of everything.

chee cheong fan

I started with chee cheong fan, steamed rice rolls, topped with a simple drizzle of sesame oil, hoisin sauce and a sprinkle of sesame seeds.  The rice rolls were thin and slipped easily down your throat.  Deliciously simple. Simply delicious.

Penang otak – steamed golden snapper in coconut custard

This was followed by nonya otak.  Otak is fish with herbs in a curried coconut broth that is steamed in a banana leaf.  It’s been so long since I’ve had otak this way – in Singapore it’s barbequed and the end result is a lot more fishcake-like rather than custard in texture.  When it’s steamed, it turns out as a delicate piece of heaven.

Penang asam laksa

There was also Penang laksa available.  Again, this differs from the more popular laksa that is made with curry and coconut cream, with the stock made from mackerel and tamarind, so it is clear(ish) and has a distinguishing sour taste.  The fish is first poached and then flaked and the stock includes lemongrass, galangal, chilli, pineapple, mint, thinly sliced onion, sweet prawn paste and the pink bud of the ginger flower.  It’s one dish that the very mention of which can make my sister salivate on demand and very rare to find.  Needless to say that was a favourite on our table.

Selection of nonya kueh

Too many other dishes followed, including Penang Hokkien mee soup, which was topped off with fried bits of pork lard (sounds awful, tastes wonderful), acar, a salad of cucumber, carrots and cabbage pickled in aromatic spices and vinegar and then tossed in crushed peanuts and of course nonya kueh, traditional nonya dessert cakes, made authentically and made with the perfect balance of sweet and savoury.  A perfect way to end a perfect afternoon of nonya delights.

All in all, highly recommended for hard-core Peranakan devotees.

Copthorne King’s Hotel Singapore
Princess Terrace Cafe
403 Havelock Road
Singapore
Tel: 65 6733 0011