I’ve been getting questions about what I’m cooking for Chinese New Year this year, or what are some dishes that are good for a crowd. One of the easiest things to whip up that feels suitably festive is Babi Pongteh – apart from the pork belly, the rest of the ingredients are all pantry ingredients! This dish is commonly seen on the dinner table of Peranakan families or as part of a traditional tok panjang, which is a dining experience meant for celebrations such as weddings, birthdays or Chinese new year. It is also important during ancestral prayers known as semayang ibu.
Peranakan cooking is a marriage of Chinese and Malay cuisine, and one feature that distinguishes Peranakan cuisine from Malay cuisine is the use of pork, a culinary taboo for the Malays. Many Peranakans are staunch Taoists or have converted to Christianity from the influences of European missionaries, so many Peranakan dishes embrace the use of pork. Traditionally, pig trotters are used in this dish, but I prefer pork belly which is more accessible and the thick layer of fat on this particular cut keeps it nice and moist when cooked.
750g pork belly, cut into large chunks
2 teaspoons dark soy sauce
100g red onions, finely chopped
40g garlic, finely chopped
30g taucheo paste
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1 tablespoon gula melaka
¼ teaspoon salt
35g Chinese mushrooms, soaked, stems removed
425g potatoes, peeled, cut same size as pork
Crushed red chillies
1. Cut pork belly into large chunks and blanch in boiling water
2. Mix with 2 tsp dark soy sauce for 30 minutes
3. Fry shallots until translucent
4. Add garlic and fry until fragrant
5. Add taucheo and fry until aromatic
6. Deglaze with water
7. Add marinated pork, soy, gula melaka, salt and mushrooms. If you taste the cooking liquid at this point, it might taste a little less flavoursome as you might expect, but resist the urge to add more taucheo or soy because the liquid will be reduced.
8. Simmer for 2 hours.
9. After the first hour, add the potatoes and cook for 1 more hour.
10. When ready, the pork belly and potatoes and should be fork tender.
11. The sauce for babi pongteh should be slightly thick, not thin and watery. Cook the mixture over high heat to achieve your desired consistency.
12. Snip off the tough mushroom stems if desired then transfer to a serving dish.
13. Top with crushed chillies and coriander leaves