I am on the hunt for good charsiu again. In the past, I have always focused mainly on the quality of the charsiu. But this time round, I am looking not just for good charsiu, but I am also focusing on the sauce and the rice.
The reason I am thinking about charsiu rice this way is because of unagi don. In the past year, I have written quite a bit about unagi don and to me charsiu rice is very similar to unagi don. Both are grilled meats on rice with a sweet sauce. The big difference, aside from the fact that one is a fish and the other, a pork, is the quality of the sauce that goes with it.
With unagi don, the special sauce that is drizzled on the rice is held in high esteem and some places can even trace the lineage of the sauce back to three or four generations. With our charsiu rice, the sauce is almost like an afterthought. Most places simply make it after the charsiu is done. I have tasted great charsiu sauce before, but it was in Malaysia. It tasted like the stuff that has collected at the bottom of the oven after the charsiu is roasted. It’s smokey and complex, unlike the sweet, one dimensional sauce that most hawker stalls serve.
And then there is the rice. My most memorable charsiu rice ever when when I was still a student living in Toa Payoh. There was a stall in Lor 7 that served charsiu on chicken rice which was so so good! Since then I have been searching for a stall which would bring me back to my student days in Toa Payoh Lor 7! So far, Nan Xiang was the closest but the sauce was a let down. If you know where I can find my charsiu don, with the trio of charsiu, chicken rice and kickass sauce, please let me know!
I have written about Mei Mei before, but the emphasis had been on her roast duck. Her charsiu in the past had been a tad dry because she was using only pork collar meat. But of late, Mei Mei has started using fresh Indonesian pork belly which results in a more juicy and unctuous charsiu! The recipe has been modified from Kay Lee’s where she had worked for 17 years before coming out to open her own stall.
The pork belly charsiu is dark, sweet and luscious and the fats are melting-ly sublime. It is a little on the sweet side but it is still very good, not perfect, but very good. 4.25/5
When asked how she came to work for 17 years with Kay Lee, we were surprised to hear an almost heart-wrenching back story of a girl who lost her mother at birth. Her then newly widowed father at the age of 29, sold her as a baby to a “Mother Hen” (mama san of a Brothel), to be brought up as a prostitute. After a month or so, her father just couldn’t forget his little baby girl and sought to buy her back. In my excitement I asked “So, was he successful in buying you back?” She only laughed and said “Of course! 不然我现在是作鸡，不是做鸭” (Otherwise I will be “doing chicken” and not “making duck”) We had a good laugh! Whew! Thank God her dad came to his senses.
Now the proud mother of a successful son with an equally successful lawyer daughter-in-law, she recalled how she started doing household chores and looking after her younger siblings at the tender age of 7, under the watchful eye of her step-mother. After turning 18, she decided to leave for Singapore from Malaysia and first helped with domestic chores at a relative’s place before being recommended to work as an assistant at Kay Lee where she earned the name “Mei Mei” (younger sister). She continued clocking 12-hour shifts at Kay Lee, roasting meats even after marriage.
She lets on that she intends to hang up her apron soon and play “Grandmother” once the grandkids come along. While she is opened to selling the business, she is willing only if the other party shares the same passion in making the perfect Mei Mei Roast. So enjoy it while it’s still around!