What is Taiwanese food? This is a question that is often difficult to answer. It derives from many influences: Fujian, Shanghai, Beijing, northern China, Japan, the indigenous tribes, America, Europe, and increasingly from Vietnam and other places in South East Asia. But one thing is for sure: Taiwanese furiously claim braised pork rice (滷肉飯, lǔ ròu fàn) as their very own.
Luroufan is a rich, pork belly gravy that is topped over rice, and sometimes noodles or vegetables. In many Taiwanese-style restaurants it is provided as a free condiment for the rice. I often think of it like a Taiwanese version of bolognaise: except without the pasta. My boys love it, as do most kids.
A few years ago, the Michelin’s green guide to Taiwan contained a blooper: they claimed that luroufan hailed from China’s Shandong province. Taiwan’s media had a field day, rebutting that luroufan was, and always has been, a quintessentially Taiwanese dish. It was quite a headline story. Taipei Mayor Hau Long-bin even served up free bowls of luroufan in a publicity stunt to try to set the record straight.
Braising (or stewing) meat in a sweet soy mixture is a common technique in Fujianese/East Chinese cooking, and many of the early Hokkien migrants to Taiwan brought this style of cooking with them. Using minced pork belly seems to be a Taiwanese invention, as is the addition of ingredients such as fried shallots (also used by Taiwanese Hakka communities).
In hardworking rural communities, this rich dish would have given a good protein and calorie boost after working out in the fields. These days many of us don’t get enough activity and are advised to eat a low-fat diet. Still, a bit of pork fat in moderation is actually good for you (at least its good for your skin).
There are many recipes, and many variations. But the chief ingredients are pork belly, soy sauce and star anise (you can subsitute cloves or cinnamon). At a pinch you can substitute pork mince, but aim for meat that is as fatty as possible. Fried shallots are a common addition, but don’t fret if you can’t find them. Many recipes including this one from Taiwan Duck use tiny dried prawns. Adding finely chopped black shiitake mushrooms is also common. And one recipe even uses peanut butter!
1kg pork belly
1 tablespoon oil
8 cloves of garlic
2 tablespoons dark soy sauce
1/3 cup of light soy sauce
1/3 cup Taiwanese rice wine
3 cups water
pinch of pepper (optional)
3 tablespoons sugar
2 whole star anise
1 teaspoon five spice powder
2/3 cup of fried shallots
6 hard boiled eggs (peeled)
- Mince the pork belly finely. (This step took me a long time, but was worth it.)
- In a large saucepan, fry the pork belly and the chopped garlic cloves in the oil. I didn’t cook the mixture long enough that it was golden brown; just so that it lost its bright pink colour. (Note: some people like to blanch the pork belly first to remove any scum, but I don’t think it is necessary. Or maybe I am just a lazy cook.)
- Add the two tablespoons of dark soy sauce, and stir further for around five minutes until combined.
- Add the remaining ingredients (except the eggs). Cook over a stove at a low temperature for an hour or two.
- Peel thehard boiled eggs, and add to the mixture. Continue to cook for several hours at a low temperature.
- Note: we used a thermal cooker, often marked for caravan travellers as a dream pot. You cook the saucepan on the stove-top, and once it gets hot enough (preferably the dial on top goes into the red zone), you then place the entire pot into the thermal cover. This keeps it warm and it continues to slowly. I left the luroufan overnight to cook using this method. A slow cooker is also ideal, and while few Taiwanese online recipes used this method, I noticed slow cookers holding luroufan in several Taiwanese establishments.
- Spoon a few tablespoons over freshly steamed rice and serve with a hardboiled egg on the side.