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Dongpo Rou & Chinese Priceless Pork Belly

Melanie Wong | Sep 17, 201603:04 PM

The Asian Art Museum kicked off a pork belly eating fest to accompany the unveiling of the "Meat-shaped stone", a Qing dynasty rendering of Dongpo Rou in jasper, on loan from the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Several San Francisco restaurants featured pork belly dishes on their menus as tribute.

The museum's cafe offered its own version of the Dongpo rou served over rice in a claypot. And made a video demonstrating the recipe.

At $16 (plus 4% SF surcharge), this homage might be the priciest piece of pork belly I've purchased. About half of it was edible. This shows the good side with translucent fat and meat braised to tenderness. The other half, unfortunately, was dried out and tough. The accompanying gai lan and qing cai greens were unsalted, and the pickled carrots and cucumbers (borrowed from the menu's banh mi, no doubt), perked up the accent.

Still, this version was better than I anticipated. And I earned my bragging rights.

Mr. Jiu's in Chinatown participated in the museum's pork belly promotion, offering up cha siu style served with beet sauce and greens along with steamed buns.

A bit discouraged that the Museum's list of participating restaurants did not draw from more traditional Chinese places and preps, i set off on my own eating journey, sampling the various traditional Chinese pork belly dishes around the bay. This is Hunan-style smoked pork belly with leeks and chiles at Soong Soong in San Jose.

Bubbled crisp skin, half-fat and half-lean meat offered succulent porkiness with light seasoning . . . this is the Cantonese style roast pork belly at Fantasy Restaurant Hong Kong BBQ in Petaluma.

Sichuan's Suan Ni Bai Rou (garlic mud white meat) aka Sliced pork belly in spicy garlic sauce at Ping's Bistro in Fremont interleaves the slices of bacon-cut poached pork with long slices of cucumber.

Hong Shao Rou of Hunan was Chairman Mao's favorite dish. Usually one of the least fiery preps, however, at Ping's Bistro this red-cooked pork belly is punctuated with green rounds of fresh jalapeño chiles.

Hui Guo Rou (twice cooked pork belly) is one of the most popular dishes at Da Sichuan in Palo Alto.

Classic Shanghainese-style Dongpo Rou is served up at Su Hong Eatery in Palo Alto. Meltingly soft rind and fat striated with some tender meat is served on a bed of fresh spinach. Well-balanced sweetness complements the meaty depth of the dish.

Yet the Hakka specialty, Kau Yuk, continues to be my favorite priceless pork belly preparation. Especially the stellar version at San Francisco's Hakka Restaurant, served with housemade preserved greens and fresh cabbage.

What's your favorite Chinese pork belly dish?

The Emperors' Treasures exhibition continues through tomorrow, September 18.

More about the history of Dongpo Rou:

Mister Jiu's,
Hakka Restaurant,
Da Sichuan Bistro,
Ping's Bistro,
Soong Soong,
Su Hong
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