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Char Siu


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Char Siu (Chinese style barbecue pork) is probably the most familiar Chinese food item that westerners know.

Moreover, just based on the sound, most westerners can imagine that Char (charcoal) Siu (sizzling sound) must be something delicious.

What is a good char siu per Cantonese standard?

A good piece of char siu must have these three characteristics:

Lean, fat, and slightly burned

(Of course, what is good for your taste bud does not necessarily mean good for your health too.)

Nowadays, it is hard even to find good char siu in restaurants in Hong Kong. Recently I found one in really old style dim sum eatery (those with spittoons around) in Macau which really makes lean, fat and slightly burned char siu.

In North America, most of the char siu sold in Chinatown are not up to standard because:

(1) The pigs raised here are on such a healthy diet that hardly any fat can be found in their meat;

(2) The eatery used an awful kind of food color which makes the char siu look dark purple instead of shining light red.

For a good dish of Yangzhou Fried Rice, good char siu cube is the basic ingredient. (Is there really Yangzhou Fried Rice in Yangzhou?)

In the Ramen shops in Japan, they also make char siu. But Japanese char siu is way different from Cantonese char siu. The Japanese char siu is made by tying up a huge loaf of loin pork and cook it for hours in the shoyu sauce. The chef slices two huge pieces of char siu in your miso ramen for each serving.

So for Japanese char siu, there is no char (huge fork) and no siu (roasting).

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of all the things I miss most from Hong Kong, a good bowl of char siu fan is what I really really want. I think US char siu is okay - in fact it can be quite good and up to Hong Kong standard - but that's in San Francisco or Los Angeles (and probably New York).

The stuff here in Houston is just not as good.

I, too, would weep like Stephen Chaiu Sing Chi in God of Cookery after the perfect char siu fan.

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I stayed in Texas for a while. I know neither Houston nor Dallas has the real char siu.

If I were you, I would consider preparing your own homemade char siu.

Buy some pork shoulder and cut it into char siu size. Then go buy Hoisin Sauce, i.e. those made by Lee Kum Kee. Marinate the meat overnite with the sauce.

Then barbecue it the next day. However, you should not use the American grill which meat is laid flat. You should use the HK style barbecue method -- sticking the meat into a huge fork and rotate it on top of the grill.

The grill should be preferably coal instead of gas.

When it gets slightly burnt, splash honey on the surface of char siu. And you should grill more than you can eat so that you can save some for Yangzhou Fried Rice in the future.

Of course it is still not the real stuff (i.e. without the food color). But I guess it is better than what you can have in the restaurant in Houston.

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Ian - that's asking a bit much for someone who lives in a high-rise. We do have one or two restaurants which have passable char-siu - meaning it's good enough for now, until I can get back to California or Asia (unlike say the sushi restaurants around here which are never ever ever good enough).

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