Picnics have never been my favorite thing. Bugs, heat, grass, dirt — need I say more?
The picnics of my childhood in Singapore, however, were another thing entirely. The urge to organize one would only occasionally grip my family. But when it did, we’d find ourselves by the beach on a clear Sunday, inhaling the salty breeze as we unpacked plastic bags of food on wooden picnic tables. We’d have sandwiches and fried snacks; an uncle would fire up the beachside grill for the chicken wings we’d marinated.
So when my hungry Let’s Lunch group decided on fall picnic food for our monthly virtual lunchdate, I immediately thought of my bygone Singaporean excursions.
The perfect food for this occasion? My mother’s kong bak pau — a sandwich made up of a Chinese mantou bun filled with braised pork belly …
My mother likes to tell people she doesn’t know how to cook (even though she does). But one of the things she does admit to knowing how to make is kong bak pau, which is a dish that the Hokkiens (or Fukienese) have made for decades. Since my mother is half Hokkien, this is something that has naturally been in her repertoire.
The process is easy — first you heat up some vegetable oil in a wok until it’s super hot then you fry up some minced shallots and garlic until the mixture is fragrant. Then you add sliced pork belly, fry that up a little, then add hot water, oyster sauce, soy sauce and dark soy sauce, cover and simmer for an hour.
As for the mantou, you can find them in most Asian grocery stores — with a little light steaming, they’re ready to go.
What makes this dish perfect for picnics is that the filling and the buns travel well — even lukewarm, the braised pork belly is delicious. And because everyone makes their own sandwiches, filling the mantous with as much or as little pork belly as they want, it can be a fun activity to occupy the kids. (And adults, too, of course.)
What I like the most about it, however, is that even if it’s fall, even if the temperatures are getting cooler, even though I’m in New York, which is about as far from Singapore as one could possibly be, one bite of this sandwich and none of these will matter.
In my head, I’m sitting on a craggy wooden bench, smelling the sea, listening to my uncle’s cassettes playing on the boombox, nibbling on my mother’s kong bak pau.
If you’d like to join Let’s Lunch, go to Twitter and post a message with the hashtag #Letslunch — or, post a comment below.
And don’t forget to see other Let’s Lunchers’ fall picnic ideas below:
Cathy‘s Torta al Testo at Showfood Chef
Chris‘s Pumpkin Subs at Blog Well Done
Danielle‘s Tomato & Cheese at Bon Vivant
Ellise‘s Fig-Walnut Pesto with Honey at Cowgirl Chef
Linda‘s Caramel-Apple Scones at Free Range Cookie
Steff‘s Rustic Tomato Soup & Homemade Bread at The Kitchen Trials
My Mother’s Kong Bak Pau
1 kilogram (2.2 lbs) sliced pork belly
3 TB minced garlic
3 TB minced shallots
2 coffee mugs of hot water
3 TB dark soy sauce
2 TB soy sauce
2 TB vegetable oil
3 heaping TB oyster sauce
Mantou, lightly steamed (These can be purchased in most Asian grocery stores.)
Cilantro, for garnish.
Heat vegetable oil in a wok until it is very very hot. Add shallots and garlic, fry it all up until fragrant. Then add pork belly and stir it altogether, frying until the meat is half cooked. Then, add all the other ingredients, stir, cover and simmer for an hour. Add salt and white pepper to taste.
Set this out with mantou. Have guests make their own sandwiches by scooping a few tablespoons of braised pork belly into each mantou. Garnish with cilantro if you wish.