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A super easy recipe to make for a weekday dinner after work, Tau Yew Bak, or soya sauce braised pork, is a dish that most Singaporean and Malaysian Chinese grew up eating at home. Originating from Fujian China, it is 1 of the most popular Chinese dishes which Singaporeans have put their own touch on by pairing it with the local sambal chilli. Adding firm tofu or eggs is also common to bulk up this much loved dish which doesn't require a lot of prep time.
Since my last post was on how to make 5 spice powder at home, it seems only natural to share a tau yew bak, or soy sauce braised pork recipe next. "Tau yew" is the Hokkien word for soya sauce and "bak" meat so, as you can see, the name is rather literal! (You may have heard of this dish by its other names such as "kong tau yew bak", "tau yu bak", "tau eu bak", "Lou bak", "lor bak" etc)
Singapore is famous for its food scene and many of its dishes, such as Singapore Chilli Crab, stir fried Mee Siam and Hainanese Chicken Rice, are world-famous but unfortunately tau yew bak is not as well known. Most Singaporean Chinese families as well as the Malaysian Chinese community will have their own family recipes for tau yew bak.
It is a comfort food that is as easy to make as it is delicious- in fact, this is the 1st dish that many Singaporean Chinese learn to cook for themselves after going overseas as it's hard to make a bad braised pork soy sauce recipe. (Actually, this dish is probably not commonly found in hawker centres or restaurants precisely because it's so easy to make!)
This soy sauce braised pork belly recipe uses 5 simple ingredients:
- traditionally, tender pork belly was used but I prefer pork shoulder or pork butt as it is less fatty
- garlic cloves
- soya sauce
- both light soy for flavour and dark soya sauce for colour and some sweetness
- If you don't have dark soy sauce, which is less common than regular light soy, here are some dark soy sauce substitutes as well as a 2-ingredient, 2-minute DIY recipe.
- white granulated sugar
- Substitute: rock sugar
- 5-spice powder
- Substitute: a variety of aromatic spices such as star anise, cinnamon, peppercorns etc
- salt (to taste)
This a flexible recipe and the proportions are more of a guideline so feel free to experiment- add an extra cinnamon stick, a couple more star anise, throw in some white peppercorns etc
What kind of soy sauce?
There are many types of soy sauces in Asian cuisine: light soy sauce, thick dark soy sauce, sweet soy sauce, seafood soy sauce, kecap manis... Despite the similar names, they can't be used interchangeably as they all add different elements to the dish!
As the name of the dish is literally Soy Sauce Meat, you can see that Soya Sauce is the 1 of the stars of the dish- try to use the best soy sauce that you can find. You will use a combination of light and dark soy sauce here.
For everyday Chinese cooking, I use Lee Kum Kee (LKK) Soy sauce and when I want to be fancy, I use locally-made soy sauce that has been naturally fermented for 12 months, such as Nanyang Soy Sauce and Kwong Woh Hing Soy Sauce. (Soy sauce was traditionally fermented over a long time to build flavour but many companies now use chemical hydrolysis to expedite the process and thus make more money.)
Fun fact: LKK was voted the best tasting soy sauce in an independent Cooks Illustrated blind test! Do note that LKK has different versions of light soy sauce, ranging from regular to premium. A lot of Chinese restaurants in Singapore, including the fancy ones in 5-star hotels, use Pearl River Bridge soy sauce- if you're wondering how I know, my Dad's family used to eat out a lot and made friends with lots of chefs: some even used to send me off with their homemade XO chilli and mooncakes when I went to Scotland for University!- but I don't as Pearl River Bridge had a cancer warning food scandal a while back.
Note: Chinese soy sauce tastes different to Japanese.
To reduce the cost of the dish- meat is expensive!- other ingredients can be added to bulk up the dish:
- (firm) tofu or tau pok (tofu puffs)
- hard boiled eggs
- If you want the eggs to be steeped in the flavour, add them straight away but if you're fussy about over-cooking, add them towards the end of the cooking time. Alternatively use quail eggs which are smaller- the flavour of the marinade liquid will seep right in.
- peanuts (not typical but we do love nuts in my household)
If you don't take pork, you can replace it with chicken- I suggest using chicken thigh as it is a more flavourful cut of meat, and is less likely to dry out whilst cooking.
Note: some families like to add dried shiitake mushrooms to the fragrant soy gravy- I usually don't as I find the mushroom flavour is quite overpowering. if you want to add some, just add in 1-2 pieces!
- - If you use coconut water instead of regular water to braise the meat, you will get something similar to Vietnamese thit kho, which is another great comfort food dish
- - Or add some vinegar and you end up with a dish closer to the famous Filipino Pork Adobo
How to serve
Tau yew bak is a comfort food that goes hand-in-hand with white rice or even teochew porridge- that sweet soy sauce broth, yum! (Somehow it doesn't taste quite the same to me with noodles, even though they're both starches.)
Although this braised soya sauce pork is already very tasty, a lot of Singaporeans can't do without their spice, so we like to add some sambal chilli to the tau yew bak. In the Singaporean Chinese home, we usually cook a couple of dishes to share, so pair this slow cooked Chinese pork dish with:
- - a plate of simple stir fry vegetables e.g. kailan in oyster sauce
- - an omelette
- The gravy becomes more flavourful the next day, so make a large pot and keep some in the chiller overnight.
- You can also make this dish in a slow cooker (so you don't have to watch the stove) or pressure cooker (if you want to speed up the process).
Other Asian recipes
You may also enjoy these Singaporean Chinese dishes:
Tau yew bak (Soy sauce braised pork) (Lou bak)
- 0.55 lb pork shoulder butt (250g) (8.81 oz) Traditionally pork belly but I find that too oily. Pork shoulder butt gives a great combination of fat and lean meat.
- 1 Tablespoon light soy sauce
- ½ Tablespoon dark soy sauce If you like your food on the sweeter side, you can use kicap manis instead of dark soy sauce.
- ½ T 5 spice powder Substitute: spices such as cinnamon stick, star anise and peppercorns
- Oil To taste
- 3 cloves garlic peeled and minced
- 1 teaspoon white granulated sugar Substitute: rock sugar
- Salt, to taste
- Hard boiled eggs/ firm tofu/ cooked peanuts/ dried shiitake mushrooms Optional
- Coriander leaves to garnish (rough chop) Optional
- Sambal belacan chilli Optional
- Cut the pork into small pieces, about twice the thickness of your little finger
- Add both soy sauces and the 5 spice powder to the pork, mix well then cover and keep in the fridge for 4h- overnight
- Remove the pork from the fridge and let it come to room temperature (which will take at least 15-20 minutes). In the meantime, mince up your garlic.
- Heat your pot over low-medium heat, then add some oil. When the oil is shimmering, add the garlic and stir fry till fragrant.
- Increase the heat to medium then add the pork and brown the pieces.
- Add enough water to cover the pork then cover and simmer for 40 minutes.
- If including hard boiled eggs/ tofu/ peanuts (cooked), add them in during the last 10-15 minutes of cooking. At the same time, taste and salt the stew accordingly. (You can actually add the other ingredients earlier if you want their flavour to be more concentrated, however this will give you overcooked eggs with the tell-tale green rim around the powdery yolks)
Does your family recipe for soy sauce braised pork differ from mine? I'd love to hear about it! If you try this recipe, let me know how you find it! Before you go, here are some Asian jellies that you may want to make for dessert: