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!
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 braised pork in fermented soy bean sauce, called babi pongteh (babi pong tay).
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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 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!
Here are more delicious ideas to inspire your next meal:
- Pork Belly in Soy Sauce (Tau Yu Bak / Lou Bak)
- Braised Pork Belly and Eggs in Soya Sauce
- Assam Pork Curry
- French Beans Stir-fried with Minced Pork in Soy Bean Paste
- Steamed Pork Ribs with Salted Black Beans
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)
- 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
- ½ – ¾ tsp salt to taste
- 6 tbsp cooking oil
- Rinse pork belly, drain, and cut into 2-cm thick slices. Set aside.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.)
- Serve piping hot, best spooned generously with sauce over cooked white rice.