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Char Siu – South East Asia’s Answer to Barbecue Pork

Barbecue Pork

What is it?

Char siu is a popular way to flavor and prepare barbecue pork in Cantonese cuisine involving strips of seasoned pork basted in a sweet red sticky glaze before cooking.

  • Classification: a type of siu mei: Cantonese roasted meat. 
  • Place of origin: Guangdong, China
  • Alternative names: chasu, char siu, chashao, cha sio, char siew (Cantonese), xá xíu (Vietnamese)
  • Region or state: Chinese-speaking areas, Japan, Southeast Asia

Cantonese Cuisine

Photo Credit: China Travel Guide

Cantonese or Yue cuisine originates from Guangdong Province (SE China around Hong Kong), and it is the most popular style of Chinese cuisine in the world. This is because most of the Chinese who immigrated and set up restaurants overseas were from Guangdong. What distinguishes Cantonese food is fresh vegetables and meat, and sweet sauces.

  • Names: Cantonese food, Guangdong cuisine, Yue cuisine
  • Location: Southeast China — Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Hong Kong, Macau…
  • Distinctives: sweeter, favoring braising and stewing, adding various sauces

Etymology

Char siu literally means “fork roasted” (siu being burn/roast and cha being fork, both noun and verb). The traditional cooking method for the dish involves first seasoning strips of boneless pork with a sweet, savory glaze. Then you skewer them with long forks and place them in a covered oven or over a fire. Char siu is suitable for many cuts of pork. This can include neck meat, pork belly, pork butt, and just about any boneless cut of pork – leaner cuts are ideal.

How to season it

char siu
Char Siu Seasoning
Photo Credit: The Woks of Life

In ancient times, wild boar and other available meats were available to make char siu. However, in modern times, the meat is typically a shoulder cut of domestic pork, with a mixture of honey, five-spice powder, red fermented bean curd, dark soy sauce, hoisin sauce, optional red food coloring and sherry or rice wine. These seasonings turn the exterior layer of the meat dark red, similar to the “smoke ring” of American barbecues. Maltose may give char siu its characteristic shiny glaze.

Five-spice powder

Five-spice powder is a spice mixture of five or more spices featuring predominantly in almost all branches of Chinese cuisines and Vietnamese cuisine. The five flavors of the spices refers to the five traditional Chinese elements: Sweet, bitter, sour, salty and unami (savory). The five spices include star anise, cloves, Chinese cinnamon, Sichuan pepper and fennel seeds.

What to serve it with

char siu
Steamed Pork Buns / Char Siu Bao
Photo Credit: Dans La Lune

Char siu typically comes with a starch, whether inside a bun (chasiu baau), with noodles (chasiu min), or with rice (chasiu faan) in fast food establishments, or as a centerpiece main dish in traditional family dining establishments. Outside of a restaurant, char sui usually finds its way home as an ingredient in various complex entrees.

Liang’s Legend

Zhuge Liang
Zhuge Liang PhotoCredit: PInterest

Legend has it that this simple snack was invented by one of the greatest minds in Chinese history, Zhuge Liang, the celebrated Chinese military strategist during the Three Kingdoms period in the third century. During one fateful campaign, he was told that the only way to guarantee safe passage across a river was to behead 50 of his men. Instead, he tricked his opponents by creating gigantic steamed buns and throwing down the river so they looked like bobbing heads. And so mantou – the pillowy steamed bun – was born. 

Other Cantonese dishes

Cantonese Cuisine
Cantonese Cuisine
PhotoCredit: China Travel Guide

Cantonese cuisine, also called Yue cuisine or Guangdong cuisine is one of the eight major cuisines with a long history of about 2,000 years. Its dishes taste mild, fresh and natural. The most famous dishes include for example white Cut Chicken, Cantonese Roasted Goose and Roasted Suckling Pig. 

White Cut Chicken

White cut chicken
White Cut Chicken
PhotoCredit: China Sichuan Food

If you visit Chinese restaurants from time to time, you may be familiar with white cut chicken. Poaching is the cooking method. White refers to the plain color indicating that there are no special seasonings. Although white cut chicken is a simple recipe it lives up to the mantra of traditional Cantonese cuisine – mild, fresh and natural.

Flavorly’s pork belly fried rice features a hearty portion of ultra-savory char siu roasted pork belly served over a bed of short-grain rice tossed with shiitake mushrooms, yu choy greens, carrots, scallion, and eggs fried with soy, sesame, fresh ginger, and garlic. Head over to Flavorly and put in an order!

Sources

https://onthegas.org/food/char-sui/

https://thechinatravelguide/cantonese-cuisine/

https://hastaglegend.com/secret-life-char-siu-bao/

https://chinahightlights.com/

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