Friday, November 11, 2011

Post 66: Taipei - Braised Pork Rice

Braised pork rice (Taiwanese: loh bbah bun, Mandarin: lu rou fan /肉飯 or 肉飯), also known as stewed pork rice, is a truly marvelous Taiwanese dish.  There's nothing like it.  Chicken and rice may come close, but fatty pork over rice simply can't be beat.  Beef may have some beautiful marbling, but only pork has that half protein, half fat, yin and yang balance that is the perfect complement for a bed of fluffy white rice.  In this sense, pork is quite unique because its fat carries such heavy importance.  And it's this sultry fattiness on the outskirts of the pork belly that makes a wonderful bowl of braised pork rice.  Just think about a tender cut of pork that's stewed in its own rendered, juicy lipidity along with seasonings such as soy sauce, garlic and brown sugar.  One bite of this beautifully braised pork over a bed of steamed rice tastes absolutely sinful.

Any trip to Taiwan requires multiple outings for braised pork rice.  Whether it's from a street vendor, a chain store like Formosa Chang, or a traditional Taiwanese restaurant like Sit Fun, the outings must be made.  And since I went on a trip to Taiwan, it meant that I went out for braised pork rice... multiple times.  I embarked on a trifecta of trips to obtain different versions of this precious braised pork rice... and I found a tantalizing bowl with shreds of bamboo shoots interlaced with pork from a sidewalk stall in Jioufen (九份), another bowl served with pickled ginger from Formosa Chang (鬍鬚張), and a final heart-stopping bowl with extra pork gravy from Sit Fun (喫飯食堂).  Mmm....

Although it's called braised pork rice, the pork is really stewed.  The braising portion of searing the meat and simmering in merely its own juices occurs never really happens.  There are actually three main ingredients which get tossed into the simmering stew... swine, soy, and sugar.  If you ever uncap the pot of swine, soy, and sugar while the pork is cooking, you'd see that the fat still hugs the pork and has barely melted away.  You might even wonder if the fat is soluble at all.  In actuality, little bits of fat from the rims of the pork have dissipated into the sweet soy sauce, and they get reunited with the meat when it gets soaked up within the sinews of protein.  Circle of life, much?

It is rare to find a bowl of braised pork rice in the States with the same essence as one from the motherland.  I recently had a bowl that seemed to come close, but perhaps it was because hunger took over me, or perhaps it was because the waitstaff suggested the loh bbah bun to me in the native Taiwanese tongue.  Whatever the reason, the braised pork rice that I held in my hands was tops at the time.  No bowl of chicken or beef donburi could knock the pig from its place at the top of the throne.  Until I find one that beats it, let's all get S.O.F.A.T.

ML - 20110904+07+12/20111106

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