04 May2012

For as long as I can remember, I have LOVED pork asado or chinese barbecued pork, also known as Char Siu/Char Siew. My first encounter must have been in siopao (steamed pork bun), as a kid, and probably purchased at a nearby Kowloon House restaurant. I always asked for asado, rather than bola-bola or pork meatball siopao, a preference that has stuck. When I was 8 years old, I had my first taste of Char Siu rice while on a trip to Hong Kong… amd that was the beginning of perhaps HUNDREDS of dishes of char siu pork I have consumend over the years. Five years based out of Singapore and Southeast Asia, and a year in Hong Kong meant this became the default easy local comfort food meal — char siew rice, or noodles with char siew. Oddly, I never ever thought to make it for myself, assuming it was an involved process that was better just purchased at one of dozens of chinese restaurants that had it hanging in their windows…

A little bit of research yielded some half dozen recipes, most of them including some key ingredients like five spice powder, garlic, soy, shaoxing rice wine, red food coloring, etc. Some recipes included honey, yellow bean paste, star anise, and a couple of other ingredients. The “secret” ingredient that all said was critical was maltose, a type of sugar syrup that was half as sweet as glucose, or was it sucrose? At any rate, it took me a while to track down a few bottles of maltose, and once they were in hand, started my experimentation…

For my first attempt, I decided to use a bottled char siu marinade. At just PHP35 for a small bottle, I figured that would be one end of the spectrum… instant, no sweat char siew. The ingredients list read: water, soy bean paste, sugar, rice vinegar, tomato paste, onion, garlic, salt, modified starch, spices and potassium sorbate. Surprisingly, no MSG. And apparently, no red food coloring, which I find a little hard to believe, considering how red the final product turned out to be… tomato paste is red, but not usually THAT red… :)

I cut two inch thick strips of pork belly (many prefer pork butt or kasim as it isn’t so fatty) and stuck them into a large ziplock bag and added the contents of a small jar of char siu sauce, 240 grams worth. I let that marinate for 3 hours and started up a charcoal fire in our outdoor grill. I moved all of the hot coals to the sides of the grill, and placed the marinated pork belly in the center of the grill and covered it for a few minutes. Check the meat often to ensure it doesn’t char too much and turn when necessary. After about 17-20 minutes of cooking it looked done and we removed it from the fire and let it rest on a wooden chopping board for say 10-15 minutes before slicing.

The results? Pretty good, for bottled and instant! The meat was tasty, succulent and flavorful. It was moist, unlike most versions of char siu in restaurants that is almost hard. And this was really easy to do. I made a sauce from the remaining marinade and used that to drizzle on top of the sliced meat laid on some white rice, in top photo.


For the second experiment, I made the marinade from scratch, including all of the classic or frequently mentioned ingredients and the all important maltose. I added 3-4 drops of red food coloring, horrors, as my marinade seemed too much in color like the one we used for typical grilled pinoy style liempo. This sat in the fridge for two days and we grilled it as with the first experiment.

The meat was noticeably less red, despite the four drops of food coloring, and while it looked appealing, it just didn’t look like a lot of the char siu you see in restaurant windows. I think part of the problem was a lack of maltose, which should have been brushed onto the meat at just that last minute to ensure a real sweet and appealing gloss to the meat.

The meat was likewise flavorful and succulent, in fact a little more so, owing to the longer marination period I think. But surprisingly, it wasn’t that much better than the bottled version. Perhaps I had been conservative in the amounts of spices and ingredients, and will try again with more ingredients to see if it affects flavor.

The homemade version was noticeably MORE expensive than the bottled version, which is another point against the making it from scratch. But I haven’t given up, thinking homemade has to eventually yield a good if not better result, and without any fancy tricks of the flavoring trade…

I used some of the char siew from the second batch in a noodle soup, with egg noodles and some vegetable dumplings and gai lan vegetables and a pork broth. Some vinegared chilis on the side. :)

We also had the pork from the second batch over rice. Both experiments yielded nice results, but I wasn’t happy. Still have to try a couple more variations, changing the cut of meat, and maybe intensifying the marinade. Stay tuned, this is an on-going project. :)



  1. Irene says:

    Nothing quite like char siu pork over rice to bring good memories of HK :)

    I like the rustic feel of the 2nd bowl. It’s glazed on the inside?

    Visiting Cebu next weekend and will definitely stop by Zubuchon. Excited na!

    May 4, 2012 | 2:15 pm


  2. Notice: Undefined variable: oddcomment in /home/marketman/marketmanila.com/wp-content/themes/marketmanila-v2/comments.php on line 33
  3. atbnorway says:

    The first batch looks very nice. It’s like it’s been dipped in runny honey.
    I’ll be following this project, MM, the grilling season has started here, at last :)))

    May 4, 2012 | 2:16 pm

  4. Jenn Chon says:

    OMG!!! one of my faves…looks yummier than the ones you can buy here in binondo…pwede patikim?! =)

    May 4, 2012 | 2:30 pm

  5. David B says:

    i admire you for going at chinese pork barbecue until you hit it right. can’t wait for the day you finally nail the dish.;-)
    and by the way, i also prefer siopao asado over bola-bola

    May 4, 2012 | 3:59 pm

  6. Lyn says:

    looks yummy… sarap i-unlimited rice at kamayin! the “D” word temporarily forgotten, until busog na busog na!

    May 4, 2012 | 4:02 pm

  7. khrishyne says:

    weeehhh, you already have something to obsess about mm…mmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm:)

    May 4, 2012 | 4:40 pm

  8. Zak says:

    Where did you find Maltose in Manila?

    May 4, 2012 | 5:01 pm

  9. Shan says:

    Am copying a link of the closest char siew I’ve tried, Marketman. Yummy and easy!!! http://rasamalaysia.com/bbq-pork-recipe-char-siu/

    May 4, 2012 | 5:26 pm

  10. Cecile says:

    wow! ang sarap naman! would like to cook some this weekend, too! :)

    May 4, 2012 | 5:44 pm

  11. josephine says:

    I love your experiments! Perhaps you could try the home cook’s approximation of traditional chinese barbecue shop methods. They have pit ovens, but if you can get some butchers’ “s” hooks (and you’re a great one for finding obscure bits of ” kit” MM) use these to suspend the pieces of pork vertically over the coals from a rack and catch the dripping juices for basting with some of the marinade. The theory is slower cooking – more succulence, plus the pork gets lightly “smoked”.

    May 4, 2012 | 6:31 pm

  12. Mike says:

    Hi MM,

    What kind of sugar did you use? May I suggest trying brown sugar instead of white?

    Also if I remember it correctly, traditional Char Siu isn’t roasted over direct flame. It’s kind of what you do to your lechon, the coals are on the side.

    Hope this helps :)

    May 4, 2012 | 6:32 pm

  13. Marketman says:

    Mike, yes, coals to the side. Maltose, not sugar. :) Josephine, while the experiments started in Manila, and thus on a standard Weber grill… they will migrate next week to Cebu, where I plan to roast them hanging near lechon coals. Already have the S hooks… got them in Quiapo the other day… :) shan, thanks for that link, I have seen the recipe before… Zak, maltose post up soon. Irene, yes, second bowl is glazed inside.

    May 4, 2012 | 7:24 pm

  14. marissewalangkaparis says:

    Wow…look forward to your experiment on round three….I want to try this…love char siew…..

    May 4, 2012 | 7:25 pm

  15. Sharon O says:

    Another recipe MM, this one’s from a Cantonese chef in Australia and uses pork neck for the cut of pork, and a marinade made with oyster sauce, hoi sin sauce, ground brown bean sauce, sesame paste, soy sauce, salt, sugar, rose wine and red food colouring powder http://www.notquitenigella.com/2012/03/06/cantonese-bbq-secret-cooking-class/ Unfortunately, quantities of each were not given, but perhaps you can experiment with that? Good luck & look forward to seeing your results!

    May 4, 2012 | 7:55 pm

  16. Mom-Friday says:

    WE love asado and have some favorites from different Chinese restos too, esp. from Ongpin.
    I never attempted to replicate them at home since I don’t have all the ingredients, so I use hoisin sauce, w/c proved to be a nice marinade and glaze for our asado. :)

    May 4, 2012 | 8:34 pm

  17. nina says:

    When I make this, I flash grill it then finish it in the oven (using the S clip and of course, lining the oven for the drip) at low temp…yum! a bit charred, crispy outside and tender inside!

    May 4, 2012 | 10:18 pm

  18. Passive.observer says:

    Where did you buy the bottled sauce MM? Been trying to replicate the binondo asado but couldn’t get it right.

    May 4, 2012 | 10:26 pm

  19. Denise says:

    Wow, the photos look great! Somehow the char siu offered by the Chinese restaurants in Ongpin do not quite match up to the quality and taste of HK char siu… How I miss char siu! I can hear my stomach rumbling now…

    May 4, 2012 | 11:50 pm

  20. Boopsie says:

    Idol ka marketman. Another tasty pork challenge! This time HK/Macau style char siu pork. Good luck and I hope you get good results!

    May 5, 2012 | 12:57 am

  21. Boopsie says:

    Your char Sui looks like it needs more marination time. The slices look uncured and I imagine have a rubbery texture.

    May 5, 2012 | 12:59 am

  22. betty q. says:

    Did you know that the literal translation of Char Siu in Cantonese according to my hubby is Fork and Roasted?

    MM…how about BRINING it first to ensure moistness while grilling. NOw, I know that there is Master Sauce that is used over and over again like in making Red Cooked Beef. I think that using that master sauce in marinating the pork will permeate the meat and give it that …what is “in the sauce look ” by your customers! Let me scour thru my pieces of paper in my Tupperware to find that master Sauce recipe and share it with you!

    May 5, 2012 | 1:54 am

  23. WG says:

    Hi MM, the recipe I used was from Cook’s Illustrated. It’s baked in the oven though (supposedly to make it easier for a home cook). Maybe you would like to take a look at it? It was surprisingly tender, moist and flavorful, and I don’t recall maltose as an ingredient :)

    May 5, 2012 | 4:14 am

  24. betty q. says:

    Instead of hanging them over the coals, how about threading them in a thin bamboo (thinner than the lechon bamboo) and roasting them like the lechon…pihit style just like a rotiserrie. However, once it is cooked, you will have the “hole-y center”…but just like an ortho surgeon who has the least bedside manner but the BEST surgeon in terms of getting the job done, I wouldn’t really care for the aesthetics!

    May 5, 2012 | 4:55 am

  25. Betchay says:

    I like char siu too!I once saw on TV how it was roasted in an authentic chinese smoker…it was like an upright cabinet with lots of hooks arranged carousel-like for the pieces of pork meat to hang over burning coals located far down the smoker…then they close the door of the smoker and slow roasted it for hours.
    Passive.observer: I bought my bottle of char siu at Makati supermarket

    May 5, 2012 | 6:20 am

  26. PITS, MANILA says:

    I’m interested with your version of ‘char-siu’ pork. It has always been the bottled kind (LKK) for us, I just add a few ingredients to the processed mix. And not at all that often, since we’re trying our best to keep things healthy. We purchase the bottled kind in supermarkets around the area. BTW, it was a pleasant surprise that there are stores who sell siopao with both pork-asado and bola-bola inside one siopao.

    May 5, 2012 | 8:24 am

  27. Jean | Lemons and Anchovies (Jean) says:

    This has been on my to-make list for some time now but haven’t had the courage to try it. Yours turned out beautifully. Having a major craving now!

    May 5, 2012 | 8:50 am

  28. bitoy says:

    good day MM, i have made that too, but it taste different from i’m used to. By the way i buy from toho restaurant, along T.Pinpin near corner dasmarinas st. binondo. Usually accompanied with pickled papaya. sarap…

    May 5, 2012 | 10:38 am

  29. Rona Y says:

    I like Andrea Nguyen’s recipe, except I use Thai sweet soy sauce in place of the dark soy the recipe calls for. You can find her recipe here http://www.msgfoodblog.com/1/post/2011/04/char-siu-pork-cookoff.html (not my blog, just where I found the recipe).

    May 5, 2012 | 1:06 pm

  30. Getter Dragon 1 says:

    Its good to know that that within a mile I have more than one choice of char siu to choose from.

    May 5, 2012 | 2:01 pm

  31. Marketman says:

    Rona Y, thanks for that link, my third experiment, is actually David Thompson’s recipe, the first one in that link… so by the time I finish, I will have tried many different versions… :)

    May 5, 2012 | 3:10 pm

  32. Akeeno says:

    This is an interesting alternative for pinoy-style roasted pork, MM. I agree with betty_q about threading the meat on a thin bamboo or metal pipe in order to cook it evenly. Or grill the meat with a higher wire grill than the normal may help achieve similar results. Just my opinion. :)

    May 6, 2012 | 1:34 pm

  33. fabulosa says:

    woah…as in woah…it looks yummy. will attempt to follow your lead.

    May 6, 2012 | 9:12 pm

  34. boopsie says:

    Char Siu Lechon please!

    May 7, 2012 | 8:45 am

  35. phil says:

    I didn’t know that char-siew was grilled. I always thought that they were smoked or something. I think that I once saw how char-siew was made (cooked) when I was a kid but could not remember all the details. What I remember was they were hanging inside a big metal thing that looks like an upside-down funnel above a wood fired stove.

    Nice looking char-siew. I always like mine with a bit of fat. Brings back a lot of childhood memories.

    May 7, 2012 | 12:12 pm

  36. Marie says:

    Hi MM those pictures make my stomach growl. May I ask where you bought your char siew marinade? Thanks

    May 8, 2012 | 8:28 am

  37. Junb says:

    MM you need to try it on Chinese oven. Also they normally serve with a sauce. You got to try the hawker style not the restaurant :)

    May 9, 2012 | 10:35 am

  38. ranny ace says:

    hi can we know where did you get the ingredients for this, i wanna try this for a party this weekend thanks!

    May 10, 2012 | 3:17 pm

  39. Chie says:

    MM and marketmanila readers would anyone know where I could get my hands on that wonderful jar of char siew goodness here in manila? Been looking for it in a couple of groceries but to no avail.

    Jun 28, 2012 | 7:04 pm

  40. Liz says:

    Ooooh! This is my fave too! A tip for color, I use home made achuete oil in my bbq, added to the basting sauce. And low fire and constant basting would help keep it moist… Good luck! I’m looking forward to see this recipe in your coming book. :D

    Sep 8, 2012 | 3:50 pm


Market Manila Home · Topics · Archives · About · Contact · Links · RSS Feed

site design by pixelpush

Market Manila © 2004 - 2021