Table of Contents
- History of Bak kwa
- Why do we eat bak kwa during Chinese New Year?
- Description and Varieties
Bak Kwa is a seasoned dry sweetmeat that is usually in a thin square sliced shape. It is also known as rougan 肉干 and is usually made with pork meat. It is similar to pork jerky and barbecued pork, it’s taste and texture are a mix of these two food items. In Singapore, Bak Kwa business is the best during Chinese New Year, when there will be long queues at famous bak kwa branches. Often, customers purchase bak kwa as a gift during visiting or as a snack when visitors visit.
History of Bak kwa
Bak Kwa originated from Fujian province and it is considered a Hokkien delicacy. In the past, it is considered a luxury item, and consumption is only reserved for Chinese New Year. The making of Bak Kwa of meat preservation and preparation is passed down from ancient China. The pork is sliced into thin sheets and marinated with sugar and spices. It is then air-dried and finally cooked on a hot plate.
A twist of flavour
When this delicacy found its way to Singapore and Malaysia, it took on local characteristics. For example, after the meat is air-dried, it is grilled over charcoal, which imparts a smokier flavour. The local version is also sweeter than the original version.
Through trade and migration, Bakkwa found its way into Singapore and Malaysia. Over the years, it has been altered to suit our local tastes and preferences. The marinated pork is grilled over charcoal instead of a hot pan to give it a smokier flavour. Singapore’s version is also sweeter than the original China version.
Popular Bak Kwa shops in Singapore
Kim Hock Guan is the oldest shop in Singapore which started in 1905 at Rochor Road. Over time, this lucrative business is joined by other famous brands like Bee Cheng Hiang (美珍香), Fragrance, Kim Joo Guan, and Lim Chee Guan. Each stall is said to taste different as they use a different marinade recipe. This secret recipe is guarded by bak kwa companies and not divulged. However, the common ingredients are sugar, salt, pepper, sugar, honey, soya sauce, fish sauce, five-spice powder, and rice wine.
Why do we eat bak kwa during Chinese New Year?
Bak Kwa is a staple dish during Chinese New Year. Long queues are commonly seen at renowned bak kwa shops in Chinatown. Recently, with the development of online e-commerce space, popular outlets’ websites will be down or sold out months before the Chinese New Year starts. Even if they can order online, some customers prefer to queue as a tradition for CNY. These Bakkwa in packets of 500g or 1kg are given as gifts or offered to guests during visiting.
Pro tip: You can actually buy Bak Kwa from hawker centers that are similar in quality. There is less queue and the price is cheaper too. You can find them in hawker centers like People’s Park Food Centre or Chinatown Complex Food Centre.
Bakkwa index by Bloomberg
Due to demand and supply, Bakkwa prices often rise during the Chinese New Year. Bloomberg even released a bakkwa index of the four famous bakkwa vendors Bee Cheng Hiang, Lim Chee Guan, Kim Hock Guan, and Fragrance.
Purchasing from licensed stalls
Be sure to purchase your bakkwa from licensed stalls. There have been instances where unlicensed street vendors sell well-known brands at a much lower price. If it is too good to be true, it is. When you buy from these street vendors, you risk the quality of the item as it is from unknown sources. However, such illegal street vendors are rarely seen in Singapore.
Description and Varieties
When buying Bak kwa you can choose from the minced meat or sliced pork version. It is similar to eating a beef patty or a steak. One is full meat and the other is minced. The minced pork is made with more fats and it’s usually softer. The sliced version is tougher and more like jerky. On which is nicer, it really depends on your preference. Usually, the sliced pork version is more costly than the minced meat version.
Through more research and development, alternative types of meat like chicken and beef are used to make Bak Kwa. This could be due to businesses targetting different populations with different dietary restrictions. Exotic varieties which are uncommonly seen are duck, crocodile, emu, and ostrich.
Apart from the regular marinate, other ingredients like chilli, ginseng, garlic, and cheese are added to produce different flavoured bakkwa.
Different cuts of meat
You can also get bak kwa made from pork belly meat which has gained popularity over the years. There is also the healthier version that is less oily, without preservatives, MSG, or food colouring. Recently, different shapes like coin shape and heart shape has also appeared in the market.
Bak Kwa is a versatile food
Bakkwa is such a versatile food that you can see it in bread buns, pizzas, and mooncakes. Although its demand is the highest during Chinese New Year, it is sold all year round. It is snackable and great as a gift. Foreigners have been known to bring kilograms of bak kwa back to their home country for family or friends. With technological improvements, some bakkwa are vacuumed packed, and exported overseas. However, getting the freshly made one still tastes the best.
Bak kwa is a popular dish in Singapore that is eaten mainly during Chinese New Year. The dish can be made with different meats but mainly pork is used, and has a variety of flavours. It is usually sold in packets of 500g or 1kg, and is often bought as a traditional Chinese new year gift. Are you looking forward to eating Bak Kwa this Chinese New Year?