Fran Church

On arrival in China, it's not uncommon for foreigners to find to their surprise that the food that they usually get from their local Chinese takeaway back home does not exactly match up to what's on offer here.

I can't remember seeing silkworms or pigs' feet on the menu at my local Chinese restaurant. Nor do I remember such an abundance of tofu on offer. But that is because westernized Chinese food is a mongrel breed, which although delicious is usually dubbed down or sweetened up to favour a more Anglo pallet. But that is not to say there aren't correlations between food offered here in the middle kingdom and the oriental fair found further ashore. After all no matter how anglicized your favourite takeaway dish may have become, it is still Chinese at its roots.

Case in point: Sweet and sour pork. Internationally famous, a bastion of oriental cuisine if you will, this delectable dish is inoffensive to even the mildest and picky of pallets.

As a child, Sweet and Sour pork was one of my brother's favourite dishes. He would devour this scrumptious treat with its often-bright orange sauce, chunks of green pepper, onions and pineapple. But little did we know how far and yet at the same time how close to the original version of this dish his meal actually was.

Sweet and sour pork, food of the north

Sweet and sour pork, food of the north

I live in Harbin, where northeastern-style food (known as Dong Bei) rules supreme. Even before I moved here I would hear people talking about the hearty, delicious dishes to be found in this part of China. But perhaps the king dish here (or at least a prince amongst other meals) is Guo Bao Rou 锅包肉. This ladies and gentlemen is the original Sweet and Sour pork!!!!

Taste-wise it is similar to its neon orange counterpart served up in the west but with the added benefit that it is mildly healthier and the pieces of meat are much bigger. You really do taste the sweet meeting the sour with this dish, as the vinegar mingles with the sweetness of scrumptious sugar.

But the best thing about this meal is that it can be made in the comfort of your own home. Just follow the simple recipe below and you too can be eating this classic as it was originally intended!

The magic ingredients

100g pork loin, cut into large pieces.

1 tablespoon light soy sauce

2 tsp Chinese cooking wine (optional)

2 tablespoons of cornflour (corn-starch)

2 tablespoons of water

pinch of salt

1 red chili cut into long fine strips

2 spring onions (scallion) cut into long/medium fine strips.

Half a teaspoon of ground ginger.

2 tablespoons red or black rice vinegar

2 tablespoon sugar

1 tablespoon of light soy sauce1 clove of ground garlic

Oil for frying

The recipe for success

Marinate the pork pieces with the salt, soy sauce and rice wine for about 15 minutes. – Don't leave it too long or the meat will not taste as good.

Mix the chili, spring onion, ginger, vinegar and sugar in a bowl and leave to the side. You will use this later.

In a separate bowl mix the cornflower, a ¼ cup of water and a small splash of vegetable oil. This is the base for your batter.

Heat the oil. You can test with a few droplets of batter; if they sizzle quickly without burning the oil is hot enough.

Add one piece of battered meat at a time to the oil. You don't want the meat pieces touching too much as they may stick together. Cook until lightly golden brown.

Take the meat out and drain away the oil. You can use some kitchen towels to soak up any excess oil.

Empty the frying pan and add a splash of fresh oil. Add the ginger and the mixture you made earlier, and cook this until for a minute or so. Then turn off the heat and quickly add the battered meat pieces and toss, so that all the ingredients are well mixed.

Serve up and enjoy!

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