Oversea Restaurant has closed, but there are still eateries selling the sweet meat with fat in it to keep the pork tender and juicy
Char siew fans who have become accustomed to the caramelised barbecued pork served at the now-defunct Oversea Restaurant at Shaw Leisure Gallery over the last two years need not fret - there are still plenty of other good options here.
The Chinese restaurant from Malaysia, famed for its pork belly char siew that was arguably one of the best in town, closed in late February after Chinese New Year. Its parent company Oversea Enterprise found that it was "not commercially feasible" to continue its investment here.
So, in a bid to hunt down good char siew, SundayLife! found six Chinese restaurants with char siew worth trying.
Each restaurant's version differs slightly. Some offer fattier char siew with more honeyed sauces, while others serve char siew with charred, blackened bits.
The secret to good char siew, chefs say, is the cut and quality of the meat and the marinade.
Chefs of Chinese restaurants that SundayLife! spoke to are mum about the exact ingredients and proportions, but revealed that most char siew marinades usually include ingredients such as hoisin sauce, honey, fermented bean paste, fermented red rice, sugar, rose oil or rose cooking wine, soya sauce, and fresh ingredients such as ginger and garlic.
The chefs, however, do say that many restaurants use frozen pork from countries including the United States and Brazil.
The meats are marinated for between 30 minutes and two hours, and in some cases, up to a day, before being roasted for between 45 minutes and two hours, depending on the oven and temperature.
In terms of the cut of pork, restaurants here offer char siew made with everything from the belly and shoulder to the neck and collar.
Chef Alan Chan, 41, of Jiang-Nan Chun at Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, which uses pork belly for its char siew, says: "This cut is the juiciest and most tender. The fat from the belly also provides a balance in texture."
At Hua Ting at Orchard Hotel Singapore, its master chef Chung Lap Fai, 49, prefers to make char siew with pork neck as the neck has good texture and flavour without being overly fatty or oily.
He adds: "This is a more suitable option for Singaporeans who are becoming more health conscious."
For added flavour, some restaurants, such as Cherry Garden at Mandarin Oriental Singapore and Jade Palace Seafood Restaurant at Forum The Shopping Mall also opt for Kurobuta pork from black Berkshire pigs.
Cherry Garden, for example, has been offering Kurobuta char siew for the last eight years.
Of the restaurant's choice to use Kurobuta pork, its executive Chinese chef Cheng Hon Chau, 53, says that part of the reason the restaurant does so is because Kurobuta is more flavourful and has a natural juiciness to it.
The pork also has finer marbling and shorter muscle fibres, which make the pork more tender, he says.
When it comes to good char siew, the one thing chefs agree on is that there must be some fat in the meat, otherwise the char siew can dry out and be tough.
Paradise Group's group executive roast chef Low June Kek, 37, says: "The fat carries a lot of the pork's flavour and it keeps the meat tender and juicy throughout the slow roasting process."
This story was first published in The Straits Times on April 14, 2013
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What: The restaurant chain, which has four outlets islandwide, offers three types of char siew: BBQ Pork Belly with honey sauce ($15.80), BBQ Pork with honey sauce ($10.80) and Canton Crispy BBQ Pork ($15.80). The pork belly char siew is soft and divine, and the gelatinous layers of fat further delight the palate. The sauce here is a tad more savoury than other sauces and its darker hue is due to the addition of dark soya sauce in the marinade.
The normal char siew or BBQ pork is made with pork shoulder. The meat is tender and the flavour is more traditional and sweeter than the pork belly version. The Canton Crispy BBQ Pork is essentially pork fat with a thin, almost non-existent layer of meat. The outer layer of the fat has been roasted to a crisp. In the mouth, the square chunk of fat releases bursts of flavour with every bite. The richness of this indulgence may become cloying after a few pieces.
Where: Four outlets - I12 Katong, 112 East Coast Road, B1-15, tel: 6344-8201; JCube, 2 Jurong East Central 1, 02-09, tel: 6684-5080; Compass Point, 1 Sengkang Square, 03-19/20, tel: 6384-3797; and The Star Vista, 1 Vista Exchange Green, B1-45/46, tel: 6694-2915
Open: 11am to 10pm (weekdays), 10.30am to 10pm (weekends and public holidays)
Info: Go to www.paradisegroup.com.sg. Reservations can be made only at I12 Katong. The other outlets accept walk-ins only
What: The Cantonese restaurant's traditional charcoal-roasted, honey-glazed pork char siew ($20 for a small portion that serves two) is the most flavoursome of all six char siew tasted last week. It has been a signature on the menu for the last 18 years. Made with pork belly, the succulent meat has good texture and a springy bite, with just the right amount of fat to keep the char siew moist. The caramelised meat is slightly charred around the edges and the sweet-savoury sauce it is drizzled with is thicker than in most other restaurants.
Where: Four Seasons Hotel Singapore, 190 Orchard Boulevard, Level 2, tel: 6831-7220
Open: 11.30am to 2pm and 6 to 10.30pm daily. On Sundays, there are two seatings for lunch - 11am to 1pm and 1.30 to 3pm
HUA TING RESTAURANT
What: Hua Ting might be well-known for its roast duck and roast pork, but its char siew ($20) is just as good.
Its chef uses pork neck to make char siew. Although the meat is lean without distinct layers of fat, it is deliciously tender and juicy, with a bouncy texture. The subtly sweet flavour of the meat is also much more pronounced in this cut.
Where: Orchard Hotel Singapore, 442 Orchard Road, Level 2, tel: 6739-6666
Open: 11am to 2.30pm and 6.30 to 10.30pm daily
What: Cherry Garden's honey-glazed Kurobuta pork shoulder char siew ($16) is served in appetising strips of about 7cm long.
The meat is springy and the sauce is a good balance of sweet and salty.
Where: Mandarin Oriental Singapore, 5 Raffles Boulevard, Level 5, tel: 6885-3500
Open: Noon to 2.30pm and 6.30 to 10.30pm daily. There are two seatings for brunch on weekends - 11am to 1pm and 1.30 to 3.30pm
Info: Go to www.mandarinoriental.com/singapore/fine-dining/cherry-garden or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org
JADE PALACE SEAFOOD RESTAURANT
What: The BBQ Kurobuta Pork Belly ($12) is a must-have. It is extremely well-charred and the blackened crispy bits pork provide an added smokey flavour to the meat.
The honeyed char siew here is on the fattier side but it is worth the calories.
Where: Forum The Shopping Mall, 583 Orchard Road, B1-13, tel: 6732-6628
Open: 11am to 3pm and 6 to 11pm, daily
LI BAI CANTONESE RESTAURANT
What: Most regulars at Li Bai Cantonese Restaurant head to the eatery for its roast duck and soya sauce chicken.
However, the char siew here, which is also made in-house, is also worth a try, especially if you prefer leaner, Cantonese-style char siew ($20). The pork shoulder char siew is toothsome and hearty.
Where: Sheraton Towers Singapore, 39 Scotts Road, lower lobby level, tel: 6839-5623
Open: 11.30am to 2.30pm and 6.30 to 10.30pm daily. On Sundays, it serves dim sum from 10.30am to 2.30pm