It happened so fast, I couldn’t stop myself. I swear, I don’t remember much of it all.
We were walking down the street, navigating our way through small street stalls. Phone chargers, pots and pans, scarves and wallets lined the sidewalks, ready for our picking. I was focused on the buildings above, the stores and apartments piled high on top of each other, making up the skyscrapers and buildings that hovered over. My husband, 2 steps ahead, was determined to find our way back to our hotel, looking back to me every few seconds to check that I was still there.
It felt hopeless; we had been wandering around, through back streets and main streets, weaving past traffic and carts being wheeled down streets and up hills. We were getting desperate, ready to find solace in food and the comfort of our hotel room.
To this day, I don’t know who noticed the smell first. It was soft at first, sweet and almost heavenly. That’s when we stopped, unsure of what we had just stumbled upon and trying to recognize the smell. Our stomachs were growling and our legs weakened as the hunger settled in. We inched closer to smell, the aroma becoming stronger, sweet still but smoky too. It was intoxicating.
We looked directly ahead and there they hung.
Glistening in the windows and practically begging to be eaten.
I almost walked right through the window. Crispy roasted duck hung by their necks in the windows – you could almost taste the crackling skin in your mouth. Char siu pork with fat still dripping down its flesh, bright red in colour and waiting for us to devour it. I just stared. If I moved an inch, I feared that I might grab it from the window display and consume the meat in its entirety right there on the street.
I don’t remember much after that. There were a lot of plates, a lot of tissues to wipe off our sticky fingers and A LOT of judgment from the waiter as we ordered our second and third round of food. The rest of it is a hazy memory, which I can’t (or chose not to) remember. It’s just better that way.
The pork tasted exactly how it smelled. Sweet, sticky and smoky. As we stumbled out of the restaurant, slightly ashamed and woozy, I knew I wanted more, NEEDED more and I had to find my next fix soon. It became a drug of sorts that I couldn’t get enough of.
I’ve been trying to chase that high ever since. Until now. Until I finally got my hands on some incredible pork belly. What better way to honour this beautiful piece of pork!? I ground up cinnamon, star anise, Sichuan peppercorns, cloves and fennel seeds in a mortar and pestle. The smell of the spice blend sent me into a dizzying spin as I sprinkled it over the pork belly. As it cooked with the marinade, I couldn’t help but think back to Hong Kong. This was it, this was the same smell, the same sound of crackling pork skin. The taste of cinnamon and licorice, the sweet sauce that has slightly caramelized and the charred pork belly as it melts in your mouth.
- 1 lb pork belly, skin removed
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp whole cloves
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- 1 tsp Sichuan peppercorns
- 2 star anise
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 2 tsp chopped garlic
- 2 tsp dark soy sauce
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 tsp baking soda
- 2 tbsp hoisin sauce
- 1 tbsp sriracha sauce
- 2 tbsp honey
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- 1 tsp rice vinegar
- splash of liquid smoke (optional)
- Prepare the Chinese five-spice powder by grinding the cinnamon, cloves, fennel, peppercorns and star anise into a powder by using a spice grinder or mortar and pestle (muscles needed!)
- Cut the pork belly into strips and sprinkle the five-spice powder over top, using approx. 2 tsp of the prepared spice blend.
- Heat 2 tbsp of vegetable oil in a wok on medium high heat. Cook the pork belly 3-5 mins on each side to brown the pork. Mix together all the remaining ingredients into a bowl and pour over the pork belly. Cook until the sauce reduces and becomes a thick consistency about 35 to 40 minutes.
- Pour the sauce into a bowl, leaving 1 tbsp of sauce still in the wok. Cook the pork belly until it chars on each side to your desired liking.
- Remove the pork belly from the wok and slice into pieces.
- Serve with the remaining sauce on the side.