So this is Binondo

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I’ve always wanted to explore Binondo (Manila’s Chinatown) before the year ends and I’m glad that I got to cross one item off my proverbial bucket list last week. It’s strange that sometimes I think commuting can actually deter you from going on the actual “journey”. Case in point: it took us two hours to get to Quiapo (the adjacent iconic bargain shopping district, has a train station and is a stone’s throw away from Binondo) because Manila’s traffic was especially harsh. The usual throng of commuters from dawn until dusk is commonplace, but it’s something I need to get used to.
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But the journey was worth it, although with all the conviction in the world I can say that the trip barely scratched the surface. Next year we intend to go on one of those food tours because as much as Binondo should be seen, it also must be tasted.

The funny thing is the real reason why we went to Binondo is for me to buy ham from Exelente, another icon in Chinese hams, or so they say. Although I found out that reviews are mixed, my chef instructor raves about it, so I assumed that to buy one was already worth the hassle of the trip. And the cosmic joke of the day was Exelente’s shop is in Quiapo, not Binondo! All I had to do was consult google and of course I didn’t do it. The trip to Chinatown wasn’t a waste of course, since our heavy lunch at Wai Ying kept me happy. As a lover of sio mai, their offering didn’t disappoint. Of course the dumplings have to be good! The duck could have been more tender, since a good piece of duck cooked properly just sings.
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After lunch, when we were still looking for Exelente (the crucial bit of info came much later), it was only natural for us to travel on foot to offset what we ate (a natural rationalization). I took a few random photos here and there.
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Then after three random inquiries (we were skeptical with the first two) that confirmed that the ham was in Quiapo, off we went. Getting there was easy, since people actually knew where Exelente was.
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I admit, I was amazed.
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The boneless hams cost roughly 100php/100 grams.

The hams are pricier that what you would normally see in the groceries, because after consuming 90% a kilo in three days (YEAH), it was pretty obvious that Exelente’s hams are legitimate meat, and are a notch higher in taste. The holiday season must bring out the best in these hams. But I’m still on the look-out for other brands that are just as good or even better.

So there you have it. This trip is really the tip of the iceberg and now that I know what’s in store for me next time, I’m more than excited to dive head first in a food tour come 2013. It’s going to be a good year, I feel it in my bones!

Excelente Ham, Inc
155-157 Carlos Palanca Sr. Street
Quiapo, Metro-Manila

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Honey Chicken

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My eating habits scare me sometimes. Sometimes. I was too full for lunch at 12 because I ate breakfast at 10. Then at around 2pm, I thought I was glued to the bed watching NCIS reruns, but no, I craved for honey chicken. I just had to press the pause button.

Truth be told I just went with my gut on this one. There was no recipe, just inspiration from a few odds and ends, particularly the vivid taste of Lotus restaurant’s iconic honey chicken masterpiece, and the sauce I made a while back for the fried pork cutlets. And the end result was devoured in record time, even by my grandmother who, today, also told me that she tried my macaroni and cheese and thought it was “walang kwenta” (worthless). But hey, don’t take her word for it!!! The rest of my family defended me of course, so it’s probably just grandma’s isolated and skewed opinion (but don’t worry I still love her to bits).

The only thing I wished I could have done was to make some more because it was the first thing gone from the table during dinner. Yeah, they really liked it.
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Honey chicken (serves 4)

  • 1.5 kg chicken legs and thighs
  • 6 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • Half a head of garlic, minced
  • 1 240ml can pineapple juice
  • 5 teaspoons cornstarch, dissolved in 1 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons fish sauce
  • 3 tablespoons white cane vinegar (apple cider vinegar works too)
  • A dash of cinnamon
  • 2 pieces star anise
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • ½ cup honey (or more, to taste)
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons vegetable oil in a nonstick pan over medium heat. Sear the chicken on both sides, until it begins to brown, around 5 – 10 minutes on each side. You might need to do this in batches.
  2. Make the sauce: Heat the remaining 3 tablespoons oil in a large sauce pan (large enough to hold the chicken pieces as well) over medium heat. Add the minced garlic and allow to fry until fragrant but not burnt. Add the pineapple juice and the cornstarch mixture. Mix well.
  3. Add the rest of the sauce ingredients and stir everything together over medium heat until the sauce thickens. Adjust the seasoning to your preference.
  4. Lower the heat and add in the chicken and cook, covered, for 30 – 45 minutes or until chicken is cooked tender.
  5. In the last 5 minutes of cooking, increase the heat to high and cook until the sauce has reduced, thickened and is slightly sticky. Frequently stir everything together to stop it from burning. When done remove from heat and serve warm. Enjoy!

One-Pot Pork Asado Sticky Rice

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I know I’ve been quiet lately, but I have a perfectly good excuse (!): NCIS Los Angeles marathons have kept my mom and I up until 12 midnight, and my body clock is as functional as a log, which means I usually wake up late. I wake up so late that I can’t even process what I want to make for lunch, and thank god for the people living next door, because they’ve never failed to feed me. But there are plans, here and there. Sometimes before I sleep I think about what to make for the following day. I juggle a few recipes that have been sitting on my to-do pile for months now. Months. But…plans get lost in translation, life gets in the way and the real world needs me. Well, I need to get a hold on the real world. Am I being cryptic? Sorry, it’s just been a crazy couple of weeks.

When one of my best friends told me twice that she’s wondering why I haven’t posted anything in a while now, that’s when I know it’s a cause for concern. I was on the phone with her when we had the conversation. But after she told me that, I looked over my shoulder and there it was: a medium-sized pot with steam trying to waft out. Rice was cooking, slowly taking in the different sauces that made up the liquid, the tender pork cubes (YES EVERYONE I’M POSTING PORK AGAIN!) becoming even more tender, and that tiny hint of five spice wraps it all together.
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I was inspired by the smell and taste of pork asado, the filling that I like in my siopao. While watching NCIS, sometimes I also blurt out what I’d give to have a nice bowl of adobo rice with me, so it’s been on my mind lately.

There’s this heavy snack/meal (notice how I can blur the lines between the two), called “Matchang” (not to be confused with matcha green tea powder) that is essentially sticky/glutinous rice (malagkit), flavored with soy sauce and other chinese spices, with meat and a hard-boiled egg, wrapped in a banana leaf.

I think what I made is like matchang, without the banana leaf, and I’m more generous with the pork. Of course that makes sense. But anyway, this is just to remind all of you that I’m still here, and I’ll always be around. With lots of pork recipes in tow.
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Pork Asado Sticky Rice (serves 4 – 6)

Remember to cook the rice in a pot that can easily hold double the amount of rice you put in. Rice is crazy like that.

  • ½ kg pork belly, cubed
  • 1 ½ cups water, to boil the pork
  • 1 – 2 chinese canton sausages, sliced
  • 6 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 4 – 5 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon Chinese rice wine
  • 1 286-gram can shiitake mushrooms (or use fresh ones), halved
  • 2 cups uncooked plain rice
  • 1 cup uncooked glutinous rice (malagkit)
  • 1/4 teaspoon Chinese five spice powder
  • 5 cups water
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  1. In a pot, place the pork, sausage and add the water. Allow to boil on medium heat.
  2. When the water has almost evaporated and the pork is tender, add the shiitake mushrooms, soy sauce, rice wine and oyster sauce. Mix to coat the pork with the sauces.
  3. Add the rice, five spice powder and the water. Sprinkle it with salt and freshly cracked black pepper.
  4.  Cook over low heat, covered, for 30 – 40 minutes or until rice has absorbed the liquid and has cooked through. Serve warm and enjoy!

Pancit Guisado

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There’s no excuse for it, so I might as well just put it out there: I’ve been deliberately avoiding my blog. I haven’t been in the kitchen for a while, my posting schedule is pretty much zilch, and…well, I didn’t really care. I think, or at least I’d like to believe that every writer/blogger has gone through a period where…inspiration isn’t really there. You feel parched, tired and done for. Does that sound familiar?

A few things first:

1. I finished reading The Millennium trilogy (ie The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and its sequels) and, I am experiencing withdrawal symptoms. Stieg Larsson just has this ability to draw you in, and I was sucked into a ‘happy’ black hole for a while, hence I took a respite from hardcore writing.

2. My barbecue craving hasn’t abated yet, so watch out for more barbecue dishes soon! (If the grilled pieces of pork and chicken haven’t been the death of me yet!)

3. At least three people wanted to send me herbs, but since international shipping is pricey, it’ll only remain a dream. This is still an invitation to any Filipino living in the Philippines, who might be interested in helping a fella out. (wink)

Anyway, am I back in motion? Hopefully. If there’s one thing I learned from my retreat, it’s that hope is a powerful word. So here I am, hoping for the best.

April rolled by and the first day of May came as a surprise for me. The Kulinarya Club holds a monthly challenge with a specific theme, and strangely enough I only knew of the April theme when the other members started posting their works. It turns out the notice got lost in the mail, so before I jump into the May challenge, here is my attempt at ‘Filipino Food Truck Fare’, brought to you by Louie and Nathan. The premise is that food from a food truck is portable and easy-to-eat, since apparently food trucks have a huge following in the US.
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When I was reviewing for my boards, the university’s newly renovated two-story cafeteria was opened. It was a far cry from the two small cramped canteens that served the entire campus. The cafeteria now had a reasonable number of food stalls that served ‘decent’ to ‘great’ food, depending on what stall you choose to buy from. There’s this one stall that serves ‘great’ dimsum – siomai (steamed or friend), rolls,  and fried rice and noodles. I go there for the siomai and the noodles, or sometimes both, because if I order the friend noodles, there’s always a siomai or two resting on top.

Observing how they put together the fried noodles is pretty straightforward. Pre-boiled/softened egg noodles have been measured and placed in small individual plastic containers. When somebody orders, all they have to do is get a container, dump the noodles on the pan with oil, then add a little bit of what I assume to be a soy sauce mixture, mix it all together, place it in a small serving bowl, and top it with siomai. That method can easily mesh with the whole dynamic of a food truck, because it’s easy and makes so much sense.
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I tried to bring back that ‘noodle love’ by making a simplified version of pancit guisado. Guisado in our context means ‘sautéed‘, and there’s a lot of it going on here. This is Chinese-Filipino happiness on a plate. The taste actually reminds me of the pancit canton of a popular fast food chain here in the Philippines that may or may not be called Chowking.

Oh, and we didn’t have any cardboard takeout boxes, so for a moment, let’s just imagine these ceramic bowls are light as a feather.
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Pancit Guisado (serves 1 – 2)

  • 100 grams dried pancit canton noodles
  • 5 – 6 pieces medium-sized prawns (deveined, head and shell removed), each sliced into 3 – 4 small pieces
  • half a medium-sized carrot, sliced thinly
  • 100 – 150 grams pork belly, sliced into bite sized cubes
  • ¼ cup water
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 2 small red onions, sliced
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 – 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • spring onions, sliced, for garnish
  1. Cook the noodles in a pot of boiling water. The noodles may cook fast, around 1 – 2 minutes. Drain and set aside.
  2. Cook the pork pieces by placing it in a frying pan and adding the water. Let the water boil and cook the pork until the water dries up, pork starts to toast, and fat begins to render. Add the 1/4 cup soy sauce and cook until tender. Set aside.
  3. In a pan, heat oil over medium heat. Add the garlic and onions. Saute until fragrant. Add the carrots and fry until slightly tender.
  4. Add the soy sauce, hoisin sauce, and the prawns. Mix everything together and cook until prawns are pink, around a minute or two. Add the pork belly and noodles.
  5. Mix everything together and fry for another 30 seconds. When done, remove from pan and serve in individual bowls or in a takeout box for that full effect. Garnish with the spring onions and serve. Enjoy!

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Emperor’s Beef Stew

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I’m halfway done with The Girl Who Played With Fire, a novel with as much grit as the first novel that I’m left dumbfounded how I never picked up the series earlier. Suffice to say I have time on my hands, because Mindanao (the large island in the Philippines where my city, Zamboanga, is located) has been going through a power crisis that has apparently pushed it a few hundred steps backwards and into the dark ages, literally. When I’m not doing anything productive (which is most of the time), I read.

And I’m enjoying this laziness a lot – too much apparently that I’m relying on spontaneity to determine what to cook and what to blog about. Time is definitely divided, and I’m actually pretty glad I don’t have to fuss over this little blog too much. Not that fussing over something is inherently bad – but in my case, it has sometimes been counterproductive and counterintuitive.
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Have you ever used a pressure cooker?

(My off-tangent paragraph flow construction amazes me)

I’ve recently made friends with it. Usually it’s my dad who uses it and he always talks about how improper usage will literally kill you. No joke. According to him, opening it without releasing the pressure will apparently cause an explosion. I’ve been perusing youtube for evidence to support his claim, but I realized that even if that were true, I’m not stupid enough to mishandle it in any way.
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The point is, because I fear for my life – that little noisy spindle on top of the pressure cooker lid needs to be lifted in order to release the pressure before I open it. Because the heat is scalding, I use tongs to lift the spindle. I haven’t died yet.

The pressure cooker does wonders to soften tough cuts of meat. We usually use it to soften beef in less than an hour. I had a surplus of beef shanks that were used for soup last Sunday. I was thinking of making it into Osso Buco, but a little Del Monte recipe postcard latched onto our fridge door by ref magnets caught my eye. It seemed easy enough, and I wanted to get back to my reading as soon as possible, so I decided to give it a try. Osso Buco would have to wait.
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The stew itself is savory and hearty, with hints of rice wine, hoisin, soy, and oyster sauce. The sweetness from the pineapples (It’s a Del Monte recipe after all) tempers the saltiness, resulting in something that’s almost like ‘endulsado’ (pork stewed/cooked in soy sauce and sugar), but not quite there yet. That’s a good thing, because endulsado can be cloyingly sweet.

This stew doesn’t need to beg to be wolfed down; it’s just natural to help yourself to a few more servings. Well, at least that’s what I did. I’m not ashamed.
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Emperor’s Beef Stew (serves 4 – 6)

  • ½ cup chopped white onions
  • Half a garlic bulb, minced
  • 1 to 2 pieces dried laurel/bay leaves
  • Freshly cracked pepper, to taste
  • 1 to 1 ½   kg beef shanks, cooked and softened in a pressure cooker (make sure to read manufacturer’s instructions)
  • 3 tablespoons oyster sauce
  • 3 tablespoons hoisin sauce
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • A scant ¼ cup rice wine or gin
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • 2 pouches Del Monte Pineapple tidbits (115 grams each)
  1.  In a pot large enough to hold the beef, sauté onions, garlic, bay leaves and pepper in oil. Add the beef and sauté until lightly brown.
  2. Add oyster sauce, hoisin sauce, soy sauce, rice wine and water. Simmer over low heat for 30 minutes to soften the beef more.
  3. Add the pineapple tidbits with the syrup and cook for 5 more minutes. Remove from heat and serve warm with rice. Enjoy!

Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly

My last post has only been a few days ago, but I’ve always been accustomed to my daily routine of visiting my blog, seeing my site stats, cleaning my google reader by visiting other food blogs, that a few days without a lot of blog activity from my end seems like forever. Not really forever, a hundred years perhaps.

But I do have good reason for being strangely inactive – I have a new job! Well, like my old one, it’s only part-time, two months tops, but right now, this new responsibility keeps me busy. The workload is pretty intense despite my short stint,  so the past few days have seen me adjust and push blogging to the backseat. This is really because food blogging takes a lot of time and energy – from editing photos, encoding/editing recipes to creating the story. It’s time and energy I need to exhaust elsewhere, because I desperately need money and food blogging doesn’t really pay the bills. And man does not live off his mom alone.

Since I don’t get to channel every ounce of energy into cooking, blogging, and eating (ehem), I just really hope I can still churn out great attempts at cooking. BUT I’M HERE and I’M BLOGGING!
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Over the weekend I did get to cook pure awesomeness for my grandma’s birthday.

Let me tell you about my grandma: she’s eccentric, loud, incredibly thrifty and, dare I say it, an amazing homemaker, cook and baker. She defied the odds by proving that you don’t have to be a victim of your past and circumstance. Born into poverty and without making it past the 6th grade, together with my grandfather, she managed to build a name for herself in the direct sales industry, send her children, including my mother, to school, and pretty much pave the way for a good, secure future for her children and their children. You can’t really do that without determination and intelligence. One time my mom hinted that if grandma would have just finished her education, she would be smarter than all her children put together.

Growing up with her, she would be quick to declare my laurels to anyone who would listen. Embarrassing, really.

According to her, it’s a fact that all her grandchildren are good singers and dancers. Well, I beg to digress but that’s not really the point. My mom always tells me that she’s proud of all her grandchildren.
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Because she’s Chinese and I’m extremely subtle, I made her a Chinese-style oven baked roast pork belly with the crackling. This was a gargantuan achievement for me because Grandma (and the whole family) enjoyed it and was amazed at how the skin was so crispy like chicharon. I got this from Christine’s Recipes, a food blog dedicated to Asian cuisine.
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This recipe reminds me of two things: 1. this tastes exactly like Lutong Macau’s roast pork belly and 2. the aroma really reminds of the food courts and restaurants in Hong Kong and Macau, which makes sense because Chinese five-spice is an essential spice to have in Chinese and Macanese cuisine.

Watching the skin silently crackle and explode in the oven, from little tiny bubbles to full-blown crispy crackling, is an amazing sight. The trick here is to get the skin really dry.
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This is something best reserved for a weekend lunch with the family. In order for you to get this on the table by lunch time, start at around 9:00 AM because cooking times may vary depending on how large the pork belly is. Forget the lechon kawali, because this is so much better and less oily because it’s baked, albeit still fatty.  And trust me, this is magnificence on a plate that really deserves a place at the table.
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Chinese Style Crispy Pork Belly/Siew Yuk (adapted from Christine’s Recipes; serves 6 – 8)

  • 2.5 kg pork belly
  • 1 Tbsp Shaoxing wine, optional
  • to taste, rock salt
seasoning:
  • 6 – 7 teaspoons salt
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1 teaspoon five-spice powder
  • 4 teaspoons freshly cracked black pepper
  1. To prepare the seasonings: Combine salt with sugar, pepper and five-spice powder well. Set aside.
  2. Use a knife to scrape away any impurities and hair. Rinse thoroughly.
  3. Blanch in boiling water for about 20 minutes, until around 70% done, and the skin is softened. I used a large wok and filled 1/4 of it with water. I carefully placed the pork belly in, and to make sure that the meat is fully submerged in water, I just added a glass or two as needed and allowed it to boil. Photobucket
  4. Drain well and wipe dry with paper towels.
  5. Place the belly on a large platter or tray, meat side up and skin side down
  6. Use a knife to make a few small slits on the meat and up the sides but not on the skin, so the seasoning will be absorbed better.
  7. Evenly brush the meat with the rice wine (optional). Let it rest for around 20 – 30 minutes.
  8. Coat the meat BUT NOT THE SKIN with seasoning mixture, otherwise, the five-spice will darken the skin.Photobucket
  9. Flip the meat so the skin is now facing upwards.
  10. Using thick kitchen towels, evenly pat the skin dry. This is important so the skin can properly crisp up.Photobucket
  11. Using a small knife with a sharp tip OR fondue forks, gently poke the skin to make little holes all over the skin. Christine recommends not exerting too much force that the holes have gone through deep into the fat. But still, you can go crazy poking holes all over. During this time, preheat the oven to 200 C/395 F if you intend to cook it immediately.Photobucket
  12. Pat dry the skin a second time, making sure that there is no visible moisture left behind. Alternatively, you can also wrap the meat, but not the skin, with foil and leave it to dry inside the refrigerator overnight. I didn’t do this but the skin was still really crispy and the meat flavorful. Leaving it overnight however, most probably intensifies the flavor.
  13. When ready to cook, place the belly in a large roasting rack lined with aluminum foil to catch the drippings. Pour around ¼ cup water onto the foil so when the drippings will fall, it will not burn.
  14. Evenly season the rind with rock salt.Photobucket
  15. Bake in the preheated oven for about one hour to one hour and ten minutes.
  16. Turn the heat dial to ‘broil’ and roast for another 20 minutes, or until the rind has sufficiently and evenly crackled. Photobucket
  17. At this point you may notice that some parts of the skin appear to have charred too much. DO NOT PANIC. You can easily remove the charred bits by scraping it with a knife.Photobucket
  18. When done, remove from oven, chop it into your desired serving sizes – cubes or strips and serve warm with rice, with soy sauce and vinegar on the side. Enjoy!

Peking Pork for the New Year

Seriously, my family doesn’t really observe Chinese New Year. I’m 1/8th Chinese but sadly the heritage hasn’t really been passed down. But when we talk about Chinese food appreciation, now that’s another story. I’m glad that the food culture is pretty much part of Filipino cuisine. It’s so pervasive that lechon (charcoal roasted pig) is in fact Chinese, but most definitely Filipino as well. (Yes, that’s why it’s more fun in the Philippines)
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But since I’m practically in the kitchen and infront of my laptop most of the time, I’d like to honor my 1/8th by joining the festivities all around the world as people, Chinese or not, celebrate the year of the Dragon through food, festivities and everything in between.

I’ve already tried making a few Chinese dishes a while back (Five Spice Stew, Sweet and Sour and Fried Pork), and here I go again with another equally satisfying pork dish. What’s with me and pork, you may ask?
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We go back around 16 years ago, when I was a scrawny little child with weak lungs who loved loved loved okra, malunggay and all the other vegetables conceivable.

Apart from really effective medication from the doctor that helped me gain weight and allay my asthma attacks, my mom just happened to introduce another important player in my eventual food pyramid: BACON. I have never looked back since. Ok, I still appreciate most vegetables (including ampalaya/bitter melon mind you), but as for okra, well, we’re not friends.
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Pork has always been part of my diet. I don’t intend to stop my love affair, but maybe because I’m not getting any younger (says the 20 year old), I intend to lessen the consumption and offset indulgence with running/jogging (which I sorely miss).
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Like I said, there’s nothing wrong with indulging. Peking pork…is indulgent. It reminds me of sweet and sour, it’s just that the former has a deeper and spicier flavor. It’s a perfect way to ring in another year because pork is a symbol for prosperity/abundance. It’s also a perfect weekend dish, so you won’t have to wait for Chinese New Year to enjoy it.

But nevertheless, Kung Hei Fat Choi!
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Peking Pork (serves 6 – 8; adapted from Rasa Malaysia)

  • 2 kg pork belly or chops, cut into 4-inch long slices
  • Oil for deep frying

Breading/Marinade:

  • 3 eggs
  • 5 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 3 teaspoons Shaoxing wine
  • 3 teaspoons iodized salt

Sauce:

  • ½ cup tomato/banana ketchup
  • 2 teaspoons chili oil
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 6 tablespoons vinegar
  • 6 tablespoons brown sugar
  • a pinch of Chinese Five Spice powder
  • 4 tablespoons water

Garnish: onion rings, chopped green onions (white and green part), chopped chives (optional)

  1. Pound pork slices with the back of a kitchen knife until tender. Set aside.
  2. In a bowl, mix the breading ingredients, add in pork slices, mix well, and marinade for at least 30 minutes.
  3. In a medium saucepan, mix the sauce ingredients. Adjust the taste to your preference. Set sauce mixture aside.
  4. Heat a large wok with enough oil. In batches, deep-fry pork slices for 5 – 10 minutes, or until color changes to golden brown on both sides and slightly crispy. Once cooked, remove from heat and place on a plate lined with paper towels to absorb excess oil. Set aside.
  5. Bring sauce to a quick boil, add deep-fried pork (you may do this in batches), and stir until all the meat is well coated with sauce. When ready to serve, sprinkle the pork with chopped chives, onion rings and scallions. Serve over a bowl of hot steamed rice. Enjoy!

Peking Pork (Jing Du Pai Gu, 京都排骨)