In my family, we refer to it as Si Yew Bak. In Teochew, which is the dialect of my maternal grandparents, dark soya sauce is referred to as si yew, whereas in Hokkien, it is tau yew. Bak means “meat” in both Teochew and Hokkien. As this is actually more of a Hokkien dish, it is more commonly known as Tau Yew Bak.
It now occurs to me that this Si Yew/Tau Yew conflict speaks of my own identity crisis over my dialect group. I am officially Hokkien, because my Dad’s father was Hokkien. However, my late Mama (my Dad’s mother) was Teochew. She spoke Teochew to us. My Dad’s father had passed on by the time I was born. As a result, I never had to learn to speak Hokkien properly. And any Hokkien I try to speak usually comes across sounding more like Teochew.
Anyway, my version of Tau Yew Bak is actually sweeter than my mom’s. It’s really easy to do, and it’s always been a hit with friends with whom I’ve shared either the dish itself or its recipe. Very kid-friendly too – my kids never complain about eating steamed white rice when its doused in the gravy.
500g pork belly, cut into 1 inch x 1/2 inch pieces
1.5 whole garlic, last layer of skin left on, and tops sliced off
2 tbs sugar
4 tbs good quality dark soya sauce
1.5 cups water
1 cinnamon stick (optional)
2 star anise (optional)
2 boiled eggs, shelled (optional)
1 tau kwa (optional)
Rub salt over pork and rinse off.
In a small wok or saucepan, melt sugar on low heat until caramelised then add dark soya sauce and water (be careful not to let the sugar burn and turn bitter).
Add pork, garlic, cinnamon and star anise, bring to a boil and simmer 30 minutes.
You may add the boiled eggs and tau kwa at this stage, and continue to simmer until pork has softened, turning eggs and tau kwa midway if they are not completely submerged in the gravy.
Add salt if necessary.
Serve with steamed white rice.
Note: This dish actually tastes better when it’s cooked the day before. To spice it up a little, you may add a dried chilli or 2 into the pot together with the pork and other ingredients.