It went like this:
You were about 13 and one afternoon your friends or cousins came over to play, and no one wanted the party to end. What to do for dinner, your parents wondered.
There were no ”chinese take away” as such where you can order sweet and sour pork or beef with vegetables in black bean sauce with a side of fries (no this isn’t a typo, I have seen fries ordered instead of rice!) Your parents would have some idea of what to have for dinner, but needed some extra dishes to feed everyone.
This was when you were sent to the nearest “Barbeque shop” to pick up some char siu, roasted pork, roasted goose (in Hong Kong goose is much preferred over duck) or soy sauce chicken.
We grew up knowing which cuts our family like the most and discovered how to ask for it; that we absolutely cannot forget asking for the sauce that went with the char siu; that the spring onion/ ginger/ oil sauce was going to go really fast as it is addictive and simply the best condiment to chicken so we must must must ask for more.
We watched in amazement when the See Fu (master – we call the staff that was responsible for getting our order ready as a sign of respect) sliced off exactly the amount we ordered ($10 char siu please!) and threw it onto the round-shaped, well-used chopping board. He would raise the cleaver and masterfully slice the pork into pieces and then place onto waxy paper, with a ladle of sauce drizzled on top with a flourish. He would bring the paper up and scrunch the top up so that the sauce will stay inside the parcel and chug it into a bag for us to take away. Later as life became more modernized, they moved on from the waxy paper to styrofoam, which is far worse from an environmental perspective.
As fast as we could we would take the lovely warm meats home, our little legs taking us closer and closer to our wonderful meal.
Mum would have everything timed perfectly for the arrival of the prized “take away” – steaming hot rice ready to go with the glistening red, moist and juicy char siu. I still vividly recall opening these parcels, the smell of the waxy paper and the smoky smell of the roasted char siu – this would be one of the scents of my childhood.
No one in Hong Kong ever made char siu at home. Why would you when you have access to perfectly cooked char siu within 5 minutes of leaving your housing estate? Char siu, which literally translates to “fork burn” is made by roasting marinated pork over a fire. It is a long process as it requires many turns to achieve the consistent caramelisation. No one would bother.
While living aboard you become very reminiscent of traditional food, or food that you grew up with. Char siu is on the top of my list and here is my version. I choose pork scotch fillet because I want meat that is tender, juicy yet not as fatty. I use a mixture of honey, hoisin sauce and char siu sauce for the marinade. I would use maltose instead of honey, if I had any left in my pantry from the last maltose lollipop snack party. I stick them in first the microwave and then the oven, to ensure it is cooked in time (I am not known for my patience!).
Lastly, I have included my mother-in-law’s bun recipe here to make yet another prized chinese Yum Char dish – Char Siu Bao. This is my daughter’s latest favourite food, I hope you will enjoy it as much as she does.
Chinese BBQ Pork Recipe (Char Siu/蜜汁叉烧)
1 kg pork scotch fillet (cut into 4 pieces)
2 tablespoons maltose or honey
2 tablespoons hoisin sauce
2 tablespoons char siu sauce
1 block of fermented red bean curd
1 teaspoon sesame oil
1. Marinade the pork pieces with the sauce overnight. Keep in the fridge.
2. The next day, heat the oven to 180C.
3. Place the pork pieces on a rack on top of a tin foil-lined tray and fan bake for 30 minutes.
4. Brush the char siu with the remaining char siu sauce every 10 minutes until the char siu are perfectly golden.
5. Change to grill mode, increase the temperature to 200C and grill it for another 5 minutes.
6. Rest for 10 minutes.
7. Slice the char siu into bite-size pieces, drizzle the remaining char siu sauce over and serve immediately with rice.
Char Siu Bao (Chinese BBQ Pork Bun) Recipe
Makes 20 buns
Ingredients for dough:
2 tbsp oil
2 tbsp sugar
1/4 tsp salt
250g high gluten flour
250g low gluten flour
1 tbsp milk powder
1/4 tsp baking powder
2 tsp instant yeast
250g char siu, diced
1. Place bun ingredients in the order in a large mixing bowl and bring together the flour mixture. Alternatively you can use a bread machine, set on the dough setting and knead it for 20 minutes.
2. Divide dough into 20 pieces and roll into small balls.
3. Flatten with your hands to make a circle. Then place a heap teaspoon of filling in the middle, wrap and pleat the dough to seal. Place it on a square parchment paper, seal side up.
4. Let it rise for 30 minutes in a warm oven (that had been turned to 50 degree C before, and turned off).
5. Doubled in size after 30 minutes. Resting makes a fluffier bun.
6. Arrange buns into a steamer, leave space in between buns. Moisten the surface of the buns by spraying a water mist. Add a few drops of vinegar into the steaming water (this produces a whiter bun, optional) and steam in a preheated steamer on high heat for 15 minutes. Remove buns from steamer and cool on rack to prevent the buns going soggy.
The little one in the middle is J’s mini one with no fillings. She likes eating the buns plain sometimes.