Babi Pongteh (Nonya Braised Pork in Fermented Soy Bean Sauce)

14 comments All Recipes, Main Dishes, Pork Recipes
Get a taste of quintessential Peranakan or Nonya cuisine with a traditional dish of babi pongteh. This is a dish of braised pork in fermented soy bean sauce with bold  sweet-salty, savoury flavours!

A Peranakan dish of babi pongteh (braised pork in fermented soy bean paste)

Hello! I’m back after weeks on the road and can’t wait to share more yum with you. I thought I would ease myself back into the kitchen with a long overdue recipe that’s often requested. I’m truly apologetic that it’s taken me a while. But here it is at long last.  A much loved, traditional Peranakan dish of babi pongteh (babi pong tay).

A Peranakan dish of babi pongteh (braised pork in fermented soy bean paste)

A short word on Peranakan cuisine

The Peranakan Chinese

The Peranakan Chinese are the descendants of Chinese immigrants who settled on the Malay archipelago. The Malay archipelago included British Malaya, which is present day Peninsular Malaysia and Singapore, as well as Indonesia.

The Peranakan Chinese often refer to themselves as Baba Nonya in Indonesian. These are terms of respect and endearment accorded to the men and women respectively.

As it was mostly the women who prepared and cooked meals for their families and communities, the cuisine came to be called Nonya cuisine.

Peranakan cuisine

Peranakan or Nonya cuisine combines elements of Chinese cooking brought by the immigrants, with that of the local Malays or Indonesians.

Bold, distinct and complex flavours dominate Peranakan food. There is dominant use of Asian ingredients such as tamarind, laksa leaves, and coconut milk. Spice pastes made with lemongrass, turmeric, and galangal, are common.

Here’s a great article by Michelin Guide Singapore on must-try Peranakan signature dishes . It’s a good read if you are just starting to discover the wonderful plethora of Nonya food.

What is a dish of babi pongteh?

Many Peranakan Chinese matriachs have cherished family recipes for babi pongteh. These recipes have been taught and handed down through the generations.

In it’s simplest version, it is a dish of pork braised in fermented soy bean sauce. It is usually flavoured with spices like cinnamon and star anise.

Babi pongteh is customarily a homecooked meal. But it is also a respectable dish served by the Peranakan Chinese at feasts and special occasions.

Babi pongteh is a quintessential and signature Peranakan dish

On this account, I read something really interesting! A young Peranakan lady of marrying age in the early days was customarily required to demonstrate her cooking skills to her future in-laws.

This was done by preparing a Peranakan delicacy. Oh gosh, I can only imagine the pressure!

It is said that a well-cooked dish of babi pongteh prepared by the future daughter-in-law was important in affirming a marriage proposal.

Cooking skill was considered reflective of a lady’s proper upbringing. It was viewed as a testament to her prowess in the kitchen. And ultimately, her usefulness in her new family.

Cooking babi pongteh

One of the many reasons that babi pongteh is so satisfying is the tenderness and juiciness of the meat. It is usually prepared with fatty or marbled cuts of meat.

Cuts such as pork belly, pork shoulder as well as pig trotters, are favoured. These fatty cuts really do make all the difference between good and sublime deliciousness.

Because fatty meat becomes supremely tender and succulent. Furthermore, the longer the meat braises, the more the flavours will intensify.

As the meat simmers, everything melds together. The oils, sauces, and spices. The sauce too turns stewy, saucy, garlicky, and utterly delicious!

Don’t try to go healthier by substituting with lean cuts. You will be disappointed as it will be nowhere near to the real deal.

Tastes better with time! Babi pongteh is a great make-ahead dish

Yes! This is a great make-ahead dish! The flavours from the meats, fats and sauces come together even better the next day. Everything becomes incredibly flavourful.

It really is amazing when you consider the short list of ingredients that make up this dish.

Some family recipes add mushrooms and potatoes. Personally, I like to add dried Chinese mushrooms. You can use shiitake mushrooms as well.

Though some might say that to stay true to the authenticity of Peranakan or Nonya babi pongteh, simpler is better and less is more.

Feel free to tweak and adapt this recipe to your tastes, and let me know what you did to make it your own!

A Peranakan dish of babi pongteh (braised pork in fermented soy bean paste)

Here are more delicious ideas to inspire your next meal:

Tried this recipe? I’d love to see! Remember to share your pics on Instagram and tag @foodelicacy or #foodelicacy.

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Babi Pongteh (Nonya-Style Braised Pork in Fermented Soy Bean Sauce)

Babi Pongteh (Nonya-Style Braised Pork in Fermented Soy Bean Sauce)

Yield: 8 servings
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Cook Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

Prepare this classic Peranakan dish of babi pongteh (babi pong tay) - pork belly or slightly fatty or marbled pork braised until tender and succulent, in a delicious stewy, saucy, garlicky, spice-infused soy bean gravy.

Ingredients

  • 1 kg pork belly (trotters or shoulder)
  • 6 dried Chinese mushrooms
  • 110 g shallots, peeled
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled, rinsed
  • 1 cinnamon stick, 8-cm length
  • 2 tbsp fermented soy beans
  • 2 tsp dark soy sauce
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 20 - 25 g palm sugar, to taste
  • 1/2 - 3/4 tsp salt, to taste
  • 6 tbsp cooking oil

Instructions

  1. Rinse pork belly, drain, and cut into 2-cm thick slices. Set aside.
  2. Soak dried mushrooms in warm water for 30 minutes, or until softened. Cut off the stems, squeeze out excess water, and set aside. Discard the soaking water.
  3. Meanwhile, using a mortar and pestle, coarsely pound peeled shallots and peeled garlic cloves separately, and set aside. In the same mortar (no need to wash), pound fermented soy beans until paste like. Add dark soy sauce, salt, sugar, and palm sugar. Stir to combine well.
  4. Heat up oil in a wok over medium heat. When hot, fry pounded shallots, pounded garlic, and cinnamon bark until fragrant. Add fermented soy bean paste mixture and stir fry mixture for 1/2 a minute.
  5. Put in pork slices, and fry briefly to coat evenly with paste mixture. Add 150 ml water and cook over high heat, stirring occasionally until almost dry.
  6. Then, pour in enough water to cover the pork and bring to a rapid boil for 5 minutes. Transfer from wok to a heavy-bottomed pot. Add whole garlic cloves, cover with pot lid, bring to a gentle simmer, and let pork braise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until pork is tender to your liking. Add more hot water as needed, should the braising liquid reduce too quickly. If you prefer a thicker sauce or gravy, allow braising liquid to reduce to your desired consistency. For a thinner consistency or more sauce or gravy, add more water.(Note: Do a taste test when almost done, adding bit by bit, more salt or more sugar, to taste - be cautious with salt as fermented beans tend to be quite heavily salted. The overall flavour should be well balanced.)
  7. Serve piping hot, best spooned generously with sauce over cooked white rice.
Nutrition Information:
Yield: 10 servings Serving Size: 1
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 590Total Fat: 30gSaturated Fat: 8gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 20gCholesterol: 84mgSodium: 243mgCarbohydrates: 55gFiber: 1gSugar: 52gProtein: 24g

All nutritional values are approximate only.

14 Comments

  1. Hello Francis, thank you so much for sharing your lovely story! I’m just so happy that this dish could bring you fond memories of your late mother and childhood times. This is truly one of my favourites too, and my Malaysian father and Indonesian mother both excelled at cooking this, but I was so uninterested in cooking when young, regrettably. Thanks to the internet, it’s so easy these days to get hold of such classic, timeless recipes, so we can both get to cook it up and enjoy this whenever we want too!

  2. Thanks a million for the recipe as it allows those of us who live abroad – London – savour this delicious dish. My late mother used to cook this often and it was always a treat especially for hungry kids returning from school (Johor Bahru). I was not allowed in the kitchen being a male child but I can now cook this favourite dish – thank you Celia!

  3. Thank you for the suggestion, Paul!

  4. The soy bean paste now comes minced in a bottle. So no need for pounding the soy beans!
    I liked to throw in a fresh red or green chilli cut length wise for a spicy kick!

  5. Hi there,
    Great dish I do have to agree. Used to cook and sell them then. Try dropping a couple of Star anise onto them. They’ll give it an extra spike.

    Nice site……

  6. Hi David, thank you very much. And I really like star anise…great suggestion, I’ll do that! Thanks!?

  7. Hi Julia! Oh my, that’s so awesome! Thank you for sharing this with me, this really made my day..and I’m literally on the way to the airport, flying out to China!? So this was so nice to hear! Keep your feedback coming, okay? I’d love to hear your stories…Cheers, Celia

  8. Hey there! This is an awesome recipe. I made it for the first time following your instructions and my family ate all of it in one sitting! My mum even said it was tastier than the ones we used to have when we visit Malacca. Thanks for sharing such a great recipe. I’m must try your other recipes soon 🙂

  9. Hello Anita! Thank you so much! Of course you may, I’d love to hear from you. I think you have an awesome food blog too, looks like we love the same kinds of yummm! You can write to me at [email protected]. Cheers! Celia

  10. I LOVE all of your cooking and baking!! May i send you a private message?

  11. Thank you so much, Yvonne! I love your blog too, you’ve got a fan here!?

  12. Hi Celia,

    Another great post. This looks like a yummy Nyonya dish that I would love to try!

  13. Wish I could send some over to you, Mable! 😛

  14. YUMMMMMM a classic nyonya dish

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