If you’re a fan of meat, you’ve hopefully spent some time in front of a Chinese BBQ shop. Their windows present a quintessential image of Cantonese cuisine: there’s one or two whole roasted pigs with brittle, golden skin; dark brown roasted ducks hanging on hooks, their necks and heads still attached; and stacks of red char siu, inviting the hungry in. On the other side of this window, in a white plastic apron, there’s a man decisively wielding a cleaver, chopping up the meat for customers’ lunch or dinner.
I have a lot to learn when it comes to Chinese BBQ, but I ate enough during my year in Richmond to get a sense for what I liked. For those of you who have never had the pleasure of (over!)eating Chinese BBQ, here’s a simple guide to the basics.
The three main types of meat are:
1) Roasted pork (siu yuk)
While writing this post, I realized something; my first introduction to siu yuk was not during my year in Richmond, as I had previously thought. It was during my first year of university, when my Cantonese roommate brought some back to our dorm room. Sally, being the lovely and generous roommate she was, offered me some, and I happily accepted. I remember being rather shocked at the sight of it, and thinking, “This is basically like eating thick, fatty hunks of bacon. Sally is hardcore. I think I’ll eat this box of Oreos for dinner instead.”
At that time, the thick layers of fat were too much for me. Truth be told, I can only handle it in small bites now. But, for serious lovers of BBQ, it’s alllll about the fat when it comes to siu yuk and char siu. For siu yuk, whole pigs, or just parts of the pig, are roasted, and in my opinion, the best part is the skin. It’s pierced many times before cooking, so as the meat cooks and the fat is rendered off, the skin becomes shatteringly crisp and crunchy (like porchetta). In this picture, it’s the meat on top:
2) BBQ pork (char siu)
Char siu is also pork, and is characterized by its sweet, sticky, lacquered red exterior. It’s all about the marinade and glaze on this one, and it’s kind of like meat candy (above, pictured left).
Char siu literally means “fork roast,” and it’s typically skewered and roasted, then sliced and served with some kind of starch – plain white rice or fluffy bao (steamed buns) are my favourites.
That sauce is typically a combination of maltose or honey, five spice powder, fermented red bean curd, hoisin sauce, rice wine, and red food colouring! Yes, that’s often what’s used to give the meat its alluring colour. While everyone has their ideal type of char siu, I love mine to be juicy, tender, and very saucy. I don’t want it too lean, but I also want the fat to be incorporated into the meat and sauce, not streaky within it. I like fat, I just don’t want waste my time chewing on it.
3) BBQ duck
Duck is rich, and Chinese BBQ’ed duck is richer! The birds are first marinated, hung to air dry, then roasted for hours. The result (when this process is accomplished well) is meat that’s dark, juicy, packed with flavour, and has a beautiful burnished exterior.
How To Order?
In Chinese BBQ joints, all of these meats (and most others) are sold by weight, so you’ll typically order by the half or whole pound, depending on how hungry you are/how many people you’re feeding. And to make it easy for you, they’ll often have combos, so you can just point and say, “That, please.” To learn how to order your ‘level’ of preferred fat in the meat, have a look at this Chow Times blog post, which is incredible. It’s what I used (and still use!) to figure out fat ratios.
Where To Go?
So now that you know what to order, where should you go?! In Richmond, most people have an easy answer: HK BBQ Master, which is located under the Superstore on No. 3 Road.
It isn’t glamorous, but many call it the best BBQ in the lower mainland, and their char siu is award-winning. While other shops roast entire pigs, HK only does pork belly; that’s because the layers of fat make for consistent (and juicy) siu yuk every time.
I’d also recommend Parker Place BBQ as a good place to start, both because their food is great AND because it’s friendly.
And finally, while their char siu isn’t tops, 1st Choice Café’s BBQ duck was exceptionally good – I’d return just for that with a container of rice.
And speaking of rice, always get some on the side! You’ll want it to soak up the sauce (and cut through some of the grease).
Feeling hungry yet? Happy BBQ-exploring, carnivores!