Date
21 September 2017
The ideal char siu, or barbecued pork, should be rich in the original aroma of the meat, yet excessive use of artificial coloring and MSG have made most char siu tasteless. Photo: Internet
The ideal char siu, or barbecued pork, should be rich in the original aroma of the meat, yet excessive use of artificial coloring and MSG have made most char siu tasteless. Photo: Internet

Chinese junk food

I couldn’t help but shake my head in disapproval when I saw an uploaded picture of char siu, aka Cantonese barbecued pork, by my friend on social media.

The meat slices had a 5 mm. thick bloody red ring. No doubt it was a piece of work of artificial colors.

Poor pork. It should not have been put on such a heavy “make-up”, and I was not amused when I learned that the dish was prepared by a Chinese restaurant of a local five-star hotel.

Some Hongkongers’ eating practices are truly shocking. Barbecued pork is a case in point. Many people around the world — Koreans, Japanese, Brazilians — love grilled pork, but no one would dye the meat.

Worse still, the original flavors of the pork would be washed away as well. In order to yield a tender texture, the meat is often marinated with baking soda and then thawed by running water to remove the alkali.

The tasteless pork would then be grilled with excess honey in an attempt to hush up the miserable quality.

My piece of advice: take a serious bite of char siu and figure it out yourself how much the original taste of the meat has been retained under the honey disguise.

What is more pathetic is that the current market trend, from big chain restaurants to small cha chaan tengs, is to do char siu with black Iberian pork from Spain.

As a matter of fact, it is pointless to use supreme pork when the cooking method would sabotage it.

Anyway, how many people out there would actually care about it? It seems that most diners would be satisfied as long as the char siu is fatty and well-burned. That said, the bad taste of the public should partly take the blame for the existence of awful dishes.

With quality ingredients, baking soda would not be necessary. Char siu from China Club in Central is the best in town. The fatty layer of the meat is encapsulated by the lean layer, meaning that during grilling, the oil from the fatty portion would naturally melt into the lean part, making it tender.

The right ingredients, good culinary skills and cooking by heart and patience would be more decisive factors than using frozen Iberian pork in the making of char siu.

Sadly, char siu, sautéed crystal prawns and monosodium glutamate are the three must-haves for high-end Chinese restaurants nowadays. Would you expect such unprofessional cooking methods and seasoning to happen in French or Japanese cuisines? No.

That is why Chinese chefs are always marginalised and cannot win the same kind of respect enjoyed by their peers around the world.

This article appeared in the Hong Kong Economic Journal on Aug. 12

Translation by John Chui

[Chinese version 中文版]

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Even some five-star hotels offer the kind of ‘artificial’ char siu with unnaturally bright color and pungent smell largely from the many flavoring agents. Photo: Internet


HKEJ columnist; art, culture and food critic

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