Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens: The Signature Dish of Hakka Cuisine
Updated: Oct 7, 2020
I’m back! It’s been 2 months since my last post.
What have I been doing in this long time? I published a brand new Chinese cooking course - “Cook your 6 favourite restaurant dishes at home”. Now available on both Udemy and Skillshare. Then I took a mini-stay-in-the-Netherlands vacation, cycling and wandering in the cities, meeting friends, and enjoying the last bit of Dutch summer.
But, I didn’t forget about cooking.
Instead, together with my friend Qing (a wonderful chef), we made a quest for the “Mount Everest” of Chinese cooking - Preserved Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens.
Curious why it’s “Mount Everest”?
You can already check out our 5-hour cooking journey in the video below.
Hakka Cuisine - by the Oriental “Gypsy” Hakka People
Pork Belly with Preserved Mustard Greens is a signature dish in the famous Hakka Cuisine. You might have heard of the 8 main regional cuisines of China, but Hakka is not one of them.
Because Hakka doesn’t have a designated region, Hakka people is the oriental “Gypsy”.
As a sub group of the Han Chinese, the Hakkas roamed across China from the northern China all the way to the very south. The moves were mostly not voluntary, but a result of big waves of historical events, which accelerated the fusion of Chinese people in the north and south.
The Chinese name of Hakka people literally means “ the guests”. They are the guests to any land.
I guess at least one good thing came out from the continuous roving, that is the food.
What can be more fusion than Hakka cuisine?
They literally merged and perfected the wonderful cuisines from north to south, through more than 1000 years of roaming.
Pork Belly With Preserved Mustard Greens - "Mei Cai Kou Rou"
Growing up in a Hakka region (Jiangxi), I am spoiled with good food. Of all the wonderful dishes, it is this particular pork belly dish that occupies the center of our dining table. And we only got to have it during big festivals and special occasions, since it can easily take up hours of work.
Why is it so special?
It makes the pork belly divine. Premium pork belly comes with 5 layers, skin, 2 layers of fat and 2 layers of meat. "Mei Cai Kou Rou" strengthens each of the texture: frying so that the skin has crispy tiger pattern, steaming so that the fat is not greasy at all, but melts in the mouth, braising so that the muscle layer is infused with flavour.
The dried & preserved mustard green is a typical Hakka ingredient. It is soft and absorbs so much pork flavour, again, it’s a flavour bomb.
Most importantly, food is always associated with memories. For us, Mei Cai Kou Rou reminds me of happy times with family, rich abundant dinner tables, exchanging toasts and stories.
It is a reunion dish of Hakka people. Prepared with love and care, for people we hold dear.
Tips for Cooking "Mei Cai Kou Rou"
Nowadays, sadly people seldom cook this dish at home, because it’s tedious and requires some decent cooking skills. "Mei Cai Kou Rou" bought in restaurants simply doesn’t have the home flavour any more.
That’s why my friend Qing and I decided to make an attempt at this dish, to pick up some traditions, and to test our cooking level. Though it was a lot of effort, the result didn’t fail us.
I can claim that this is the best "Mei Cai Kou Rou" I’ve had in years, maybe even better than my grandma’s version.
If there is only one takeaway from cooking this dish, it is to be patient and give all the attention it requires. The result would worth all the effort.
Apart from that, I have "3 thoroughs" to offer:
Boil the pork thoroughly: There are some recipes on the internet even skipped this step. It is crucial to remove the bad bloody taste of pork. Especially in countries where the meat is not halal, the pork can come with such an overwhelming bad smell. It’s definitely not the aroma we need in Mei Cai Kou Rou.
Clean the preserved mustard greens thoroughly: The dry preserved mustard greens (Mei Cai) are available in most Chinese supermarkets. You might think packaged goods are pretty clean, but not for the mustard greens. It comes with sand. We have the rinse it multiple times till the water is clear, in order to make sure there won’t be any sand left in the greens.
3. Fry the skin thoroughly: One of the defining feature of Mei Cai Kou Rou is the wrinkled fried skin. We call it tiger pattern, or “Hu Pi” in Chinese. It looks shiny, breaks the chewy texture of the pork skin, absorbs loads of flavour with its fried bubbly texture. Make sure the skin is fried till crispy, having small bubbles popping on the skin is ideal. (But don’t burn it. )
Did I successfully scare you off to cook this dish?
Or are you intrigued and about to say “Challenge accepted”?
Let me know in the comments!
In either case, I hope you get to know a bit more about the authentic Chinese food.
If you are a beginner in cooking, you can start with my Chinese cooking courses for beginners to get a head start. You’ll be more confident to try out this Mei Cai Kou Rou dish after the course.
Detailed Recipe: Pork Belly With Preserved Mustard Greens
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