’Tis the season for chestnuts roasting on an open fire. But why settle for nuts or turkeys, when you can celebrate with super delicious Asian-style roast meats like char siew or siew yoke (crispy roast pork belly)? Here are two yummy options: one from a hawker, the other from a more refined restaurant.
1. Try This: Roast Paradise, from $4 for a Char Siew Set with rice or noodles; $5.20 for a Char Siew & Siew Yoke Set
#01-121 Old Airport Road Food Centre, 51 Old Airport Rd, S390051. Tel: 9786-7396. Open daily except Mon, 11am to 3pm or till sold out.
This humble hawker stall at Old Airport Road Food Centre has been in operation for almost two years and the young hawkerpreneurs behind it have an interesting story to tell. Kai gave up his job in nightlife entertainment to find another vocation that he felt was more meaningful. Keeping his family’s roasted meat biz alive seemed like a worthy endeavour, so he approached his distant uncle, who runs a successful roast meat business in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, to train him in the art of cooking the dish. It took time and persuasion, but said uncle finally agreed and after an intense training period, he and his partner Randall were in business and Roast Paradise was born.
Using pork belly imported from Denmark and the USA, Kai offers KL-style Char Siew, which is juicy, fatty and marinated in a darker, more savoury glaze, unlike the Singaporean version, which is usually sweeter and bright orange from food colouring. This char siew is first massaged with a blend of 15 secret ingredients, including superior soy sauce, then roasted slowly over lower than usual heat. It is basted with sauce frequently and roasted until most of the fats melt and the marinade penetrates into the flesh. The result is tender, juicy meat with an irresistible caramelised crust. The sauce is neither too sweet nor salty, deeply savoury.
There are also limited portions of the Premium Char Siew. This features meat found only on the pig’s head. The high amounts of fat and collagen in this cut apparently makes for a stickier, more meltingly tender mouthfeel. Sadly, it was out of stock on the day I paid a visit.
However the Siew Yoke here is wonderfully tender and flavourful as well, with a golden-brown crust that crackles and remains crunchy even after sitting out for a long time.
There are some unique carbs here to accompany your choice of meat. There’s fragrant, Garlic Rice, reminiscent of chicken rice — it's lovely paired with the fatty pork. If you prefer noodles, go for the Hakka-Style Noodles, tossed in a tasty soy and shallot oil sauce, then topped with minced pork, scallions, fried shallots and tangy-salty chilli sauce.
Following the success of Roast Paradise at Old Airport Road, the towkays recently opened another branch in Ang Mo Kio, with new partner Sean Hong joining the business. Sean is a Project Campus Superstar alum and a pal from Kai’s partying days. After eight months of intensive training, Sean now operates Roast Paradise at Block 531 Ang Mo Kio Avenue 10.
2. Or that: Char, from $6 per 100g (min 300g) for the Signature Char Siew and $20 per 150g portion of Premium Slow-Roasted Char Siew (limited to 10 portions a day, dinner only).
363 Jln Besar, S208994. Tel: 6842-7759. Open daily except Mon 11:30am - 2:30pm & 6pm - 10pm. Last orders at 2pm & 9.30pm.
The char siew at Char is essentially Cantonese in DNA, but with influences from Vietnam, Britain and Singapore. A pair of Vietnam-born brothers is behind this joint. After spending decades living and working in the United Kingdom, Anthony and Alvin Ung relocated to Singapore and spent a year perfecting their char siew recipe before opening Char, to much acclaim back in 2014. Their signature Char Siew has proven so popular that they have since moved from their tiny Guillemard Road store to a bigger, double-storied space in Jalan Besar.
Alvin is a chef by profession and spent 30 years working in Chinese restaurants in Birmingham, while Anthony’s interests lie in using Western food prep techniques on Asian ingredients. The brothers have thus come up with a unique spin on the traditional roast meat. The Signature Char Siew, using pork belly selected specially for its perfect fat-to-lean meat ratio, over 30 specially-blended ingredients and a three-step secret cooking procedure that results in an unctuous, deeply burnished and saucy roast pork packed with umami. The meltingly tender, fatty meat is smothered in a luscious dark sauce. It’s juicy on the inside, lovely and charred with crusty bits on the outside.
Also try the Premium Slow-Roasted Char Siew. Kurobuta pork belly is chosen for its consistent fat marbling throughout the meat and while it's marinated in the same sauce as the regular char siew, the difference is this is left to soak up all the flavour for over two days. After taking its time in this saucy bath, the kurobuta pork belly is then slow roasted on low heat over charcoal and lychee wood. This is moist, yet firmer to the bite than the usual char siew. Also, it's more sticky than saucy and boasts a lovely smoky aroma from the wood. If you want to try this premium version, order early as only limited portions are available due to its time-consuming cooking process.
Don't forget to help yourself to the spicy condiments at your table. There’s a sweet, briny XO chilli oil as well as a mind-blowing sambal belacan that is savoury, spicy and tangy. Both sauces help balance the meat’s caramel notes wonderfully.