My Citizens – as noted in my previous post from last week, the Dauphin of Depression has indeed been living up to His Title these last few days as the walls have slowly been closing in around me after nearly a year in lockdown (it will be one year on March 9). While the mighty Fenris – Prince of Basset Hounds! – has been doing all he can to break me out of this dark mood, and my inimitable wife has also tried her best, it’s been a rough week. So – when I am feeling less than optimistic, I turn immediately to my comfort foods – and spicy pork belly stew is definitely in that category!
This particular stew (moo hong in Thai) hails from Southern Thailand – specifically around the resort city of Phuket, which was once the trading capital of the country and as such has a large immigrant population. These cultural influences are reflected in both the overall cuisine of the region as well as the local foods of the city. Phuket cuisine and local food (Baba Peranakan food) is thus the combination of many cultural food habits, whether they be Chinese, Malay or Thai – this was in fact the original fusion cuisine of Thailand!
By way of example – some Phuket local food tastes sweet, such as in Chinese Hakka cuisine, but it can also be spicy, as evidenced in Thai cuisine and Malay cuisine. The food culture of Phuket, like its architecture, blends western colonial, Hokkien (Teochew) Chinese with Muslim and Thai motifs. The Hokkien who arrived from Singapore and Malaysia introduced moo hong to the culinary repertoire of the Phuket Thai-style cuisine (bpoon dteh ; ปุ้นเต่).
Sweetening meat is a technique that has been used for thousands of years as a food preservation method. Therefore, what we have here is the rare dish that will be even tastier the next day – a good reason to cook it at your earliest convenience, Citizens! Moo hong is a stewed pork dish that was originated by a wandering Chinese people known as “Hokkien” or “Teochew”, who came from the neighboring countries of Malaysia and Singapore but are originally from South China. They usually made this dish to be enjoyed as a central part of ceremonies of celebration.
Moo Hong contains pork belly, which is the main part of the dish and also uses dark soy sauce and sugar for a sweet taste and unique texture. It also includes garlic, pepper, and coriander roots for a piquant flavor. Regular soy sauce is included for a more salty taste. Finally, it is garnished with fresh Cilantro in the classic Thai fashion. Moo Hong is usually served with rice or boiled rice and served as the main meal.
As noted in a fascinating article on silverkris.com which I am excerpting from here:
Phuket’s street food stars – The Michelin Guide might be coming to Phuket but the true flavours of this island’s richly diverse cuisine are found in the lanes and alleys of the Old Town
STORY BY CHAWADEE NUALKHAIR – Published on June 20, 2018
When Michelin announced in May that it would be expanding its 2019 Thailand guide to include the best food of Phuket and Phang-nga provinces, eyebrows were raised. Could the tourist haven’s restaurants really stand shoulder to shoulder with the country’s sophisticated capital?
Still, local food aficionados were quick on the defence. “Phuket has flavours that you don’t find anywhere else in the country,” says Dwight Turner of popular Thai food blog bkkfatty.com. “It’s sort of like a stew of Indian, Malay and Thai cultures. The food that comes out of that is something special.”
Phuket’s image as a melting pot of a wide range of cultures is the result of its history as a commercial trading port that drew visitors from far and wide. Phuket Town also played host to a tin mining boom from the 1850s to the mid-1900s, luring many Hokkien Chinese from Fujian province to its shores. The result is a mix of Hokkien Chinese, southern Thai, Thai-Muslim and Malay influences unlike anywhere else in Thailand.
All of those social and cultural influences have filtered down into Phuket’s food, which offers a host of unique dishes. Here, the flavour profile can swing wildly from the sweet-and-salty tastes of the Hokkien Chinese to the fearsome spice of southern Thailand.
For this reason, Phuket is worth a stop on any serious food lover’s radar, says Samantha Proyruntong of influential F&B website bangkokfoodies.com. “There are a number of gems and little guys kicking a** that deserve the same degree of attention as some Bangkok restaurants,” the Phuket native explains.
Even better, these are not expensive eateries but streetside stalls run by the second or third generation of the families that founded them. These locals have absorbed their diverse ancestry to create dishes unique to the island – dishes like the flour, egg and coconut milk pancake known as ah pong or the sweet ang-gu, made with sticky rice flour, sugar and nuts. It’s not just that these are the best versions of these dishes but that they can’t be found anywhere else in Thailand.
Whether Michelin awards this culinary originality is yet to be seen. In the meantime, these are the five Phuket-only eats you simply must try.
Moo Hong (Pork Belly Stew) – Raya Chessadawan is the long-time owner of Raya and creator of the restaurant’s unique recipe for Moo Hong. This slow-cooked pork belly stew in a peppery gravy is a bewitching mix of meat, sweetness, umami and spice wreathed in a halo of fat. Traditionally served during Hokkien Chinese celebrations, this dish is typically accompanied by fluffy white rice.
Perhaps the most famous incarnation of it is served at Raya, widely considered one of the island’s most famous local restaurants. Set in a barely renovated Sino-Portuguese shophouse in the Old Town, Raya has formed a big part of the Phuket food scene for nearly three decades, with its version of moo hong being one of the restaurant’s signaturesThe restaurant Raya sits in a charming Sino-Portuguese shophouse.
The recipe – concocted by Raya Chessadawan, the restaurant’s now-septuagenarian owner – involves big chunks of pork belly braised for three hours, with near-continuous stirring, explains the bespectacled Suchitra Chesadaval, who helps manage the restaurant. “The dish is originally Hokkien Chinese but we have our own spin on it,” she said, taking a break from tallying checks during a busy lunch service. “We can’t tell you everything that goes into it, but there is garlic, peppercorns and Phuket soy sauce, which is more rounded in flavour than regular soy sauce.”
Citizens, this is a truly delectable recipe indeed and only requires a few specialized ingredients. First, of course, is pork belly – you really want to make this with skin-on pork belly, preferably from an heirloom breed with a lot of fat such as Mangalitsa (best choice) or Berkshire. The skin turns sweet, spicy, sticky and soft in this recipe – it is a real highlight of the meal! You can buy superb Mangalitsa skin-on pork belly here – be sure to include in the notes when you order that you want skin-on.
Rice bran oil of top-quality can be purchased here, and my favorite oyster sauce, by far, is this one – it also happens to be Thai! Thai sweet dark soy sauce of exceptional provenance and flavor may be found here, while dried cinnamon leaves can be purchased from here and fresh Markut lime leaves are easily found here. You want to use the milder Ceylon cinnamon quills for this recipe – you can buy this far superior to regular cinnamon variant from here. My preferred palm sugar from Thailand is this one. I have added in some of my own special spicing magic, including the use of canned green peppercorns as well as black and white.
As I slowly convalesce, I hope the members of TFD Nation will send their best wishes for my speedy and complete recovery – and for the record, this dish is absolutely spectacular paired with another of my Thai comfort foods – the Siam version of wor wonton soup!
Battle on – the GeneralissimoPrint
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