Menu for Spring Festival Eve: Red braised pork belly
Wu Yan
01:16

If you ask Chinese which dish best represents China, people from different regions may give different answers. 

But if you recommend red braised pork belly, few will disagree with you, not only because it has a long history, but also it is a favorite of people from both northern and southern China.

The earliest written record about the dish dates back to the fifth century when agronomist Jia Sixie explained how to cook the dish in his famous book “Qi Min Yao Shu.” Since the book introduces common people's living styles, we know that the dish was created by Chinese people even earlier than the book was written.

Although having long existed, it was until the Song Dynasty that the dish became famous due to eminent litterateur and politician Su Shi, also known as Su Dongpo. In 1080, Su was exiled from the capital to Huangzhou, in today's Hubei Province. He observed closely local people's lives and wrote a poem titled “Eating Pork,” which displays his own style of cooking red braised pork belly:

Red braised pork belly. /VCG File Photo

Red braised pork belly. /VCG File Photo

“There is good and very cheap pork in Huangzhou. Wealthy people don't eat it, while common people don't know how to make it delicious. The pork should be stewed with slow heat with a little water added, and at the right time, it will smell so good. Having a bowl of pork every morning, I feel full and easy.”

In 1089, Su was appointed as an official in Hangzhou. At the time, the surface of West Lake was mostly covered by grass, so Su called on thousands of workers to clean up the lake and irrigate farmland. It is said that in the Spring Festival of the next year, local people sent Su pork and yellow wine to express their gratitude. Moved by local people's sincerity, Su accepted the gifts but asked his family members to cook the pork and gave them out to those working in the West Lake project. Su's family members mistakenly cooked the pork and yellow wine together, resulting in a specially flavored red braised pork belly.

People praised Su's caring for the workers and people at large, as well as pork's good taste. They learned Su's method of cooking pork and renamed the dish “Dongpo Pork” to commemorate him.

Dongpo pork. /VCG File Photo

Dongpo pork. /VCG File Photo

The popularity of the dish remains to this day. It is said that the late Chinese leader Mao Zedong also liked eating red braised pork belly. As Mao did not eat soy sauce, a key ingredient, his chef Cheng Numing replaced it with sugar and salt and this also achieved success.

The dish without soy sauce was renamed Mao's Red Braised Pork Belly afterward and was listed as one of the ten classic Hunan famous dishes in September  2018.

You can see there are many ways of cooking the dish in different places in China. As the Spring Festival nears, the popular dish is one of the most anticipated on the table on this important occasion for family reunions. Why not seize the chance to show your cooking talent?

But before cooking, the first and key step is to choose a good chunk of pork belly, which must have lean meat, fat and skin.

A chunk of pork that fits for making red braised pork belly. /VCG File Photo

A chunk of pork that fits for making red braised pork belly. /VCG File Photo

Now, click the video above. The whole process of cooking the dish is simple.

First, cut pork belly into small chunks, and boil them with yellow wine for one or two minutes before taking them out.

Pour some oil into a heated pan and add rock candies, stir until candies are melted. Stir-fry the pork in the pan until they turn yellow. Add bay leaves, chili, Sichuan pepper, illicium verum, spring onion and ginger slices, and continue to stir-fry for a while.

Red braised pork belly. /VCG File Photo

Red braised pork belly. /VCG File Photo

Add water to cover everything in the pan, boil with high heat and then simmer for about half an hour. Then add salt, light soy sauce and garlic, and switch to high heat until the gravy thickens.

The aroma of the red braised pork belly will fill the room. It's time to call your family members for a hearty Spring Festival feast.