After five long years in London, I’m finally back in Singapore, just in time for reunion dinner on the eve of Lunar New Year.
I am beyond excited. Not so much for meeting nosey people at gatherings, and giving red packets (being married also means I no longer qualify for shamelessly parking at random houses for red packets from strangers who clearly dread to see me), but I am thrilled to be spending the Lunar New Year with my folks and siblings, and I am keen to carve out new traditions with my husband and baby girl.
Before our daughter came along, M and I made up certain Lunar New Year traditions in London. We were very homesick and often rallied friends to ignite the good cheer that each New Year brought. We would host a steamboat reunion dinner with massive piles of sliced meats and vegetables, and inhale these after dipping them into divine sauces (often concocted with Sha Cha sauce, sesame paste, chilli paste, chopped coriander and raw eggs). We would bring out the games table and play Monopoly or poker (and very occasionally mahjong) whilst watching Stephen Chow comedies. I would makepineapple tarts, kueh bangkit, cornflake caramel drops and even clementine macarons for our friends to snack on. We also made sure to do a proper spring clean, arrange stalks of pussy willow in the only vase we own, and put up chun lien (New Year couplets) on the walls. We would have friends over for more steamboat dinners throughout the fifteen days of Lunar New Year, and we would head out to Min Jiang at the Royal Garden Hotel for yusheng and Peking duck. No Lunar New Year was complete without a trip to Chinatown in London, to take in a little of the festivities, jostle with the crowds and admire the rows and rows of Lanterns overlooking Gerrard Street.
Gosh, I miss those times.
I also craved for certain foods that we couldn’t quite get in London, bak kwa (Chinese barbecued pork jerky) for instance. I missed being greeted by wafts of smokey meat on the barbecue, sinking my teeth into ’em chewy, sticky slices, and licking remnants of that addictive sweet-savoury caramel off my fingers. What did I do then, to satisfy the craving? Why, I made bak kwa from scratch of course! The husband thought I was a little crazy but he was happy that I did! It turned out to be really easy, the marinade was simple enough (I omitted certain ingredients that I couldn’t get in London and improvised) and all we needed to do was to finish the slices off on the barbecue! I wouldn’t go as far as to say that they were authentic, but the homemade bak kwa came pretty close to the real thing.
I don’t know if anyone cares for the recipe; if you do, please comment away*! Bak kwa costs an arm and a leg in the days leading up to Lunar New Year, and I would make them again if I weren’t busy taking care of my daughter and finding time to brush my teeth.
Ahhh…the days when I could find the energy to cook anything and everything. Oh well, the time will come.
*UPDATED with recipe:
Homemade Bak Kwa
500g minced pork
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
8 tablespoons unrefined granulated sugar (regular sugar will do, I used this because I had spare unrefined sugar in my pantry)
1 tablespoon light soy sauce
1 tablespoon shao xing wine
1 tablespoon kecap manis
1/4 teaspoon five spice powder
1/4 teaspoon dark soy sauce
Red liquid food colouring (optional)
1. Preheat oven to 120 degrees Celsius.
2. Mix all ingredients together until well-combined.
3. Place the meat mixture onto a piece of baking parchment that is cut to be slightly larger than your oven tray.
4. Place a piece of cling film on top of the meat mixture and roll out the mixture with a rolling pin until 3-4mm thick. The cling film will prevent the meat from sticking to the rolling pin. Then, gently hold up the sides of the parchment and lay it on the oven tray.
5. Remove cling film and grill in the oven for 17 minutes (I used the fan assisted grill function). This dries up the meat a little so that the final product wouldn’t be too soft. Turn the temperature up to 170 degree Celsius and grill for another 10 minutes; this cooks the meat. You may then choose to char the meat at 200 degrees Celsius for 3 minutes or to finish it off on a charcoal BBQ. I prefer the BBQ as it gives the smokey flavour characteristic of bak kwa. Cool the meat down till desired temperature, cut into slices and serve. Do adjust your grilling times according to your oven idiosyncrasies to fine-tune the texture of your bak kwa.
The recipe is rather versatile and you can tweak the quantities of the seasoning to obtain a saltier or sweeter flavour.