#FoodforThought Bak Kwa
📷: Choo Yat Shing@Flickr (Creative Commons)
What’re you looking forward to this Lunar New Year?
Many would undoubtedly be looking forward to indulging in their favourite traditional New Year goodies. Bak kwa, also known as rougan (肉干)—literally “dried meat” in Hokkien and Mandarin respectively—would be at the top of the food list!
However, bak kwa certainly did not start off as the well-loved delicacy that it is today. In fact it was borne out of necessity — in ancient China, meat was considered a luxury usually reserved for special occasions such as the Lunar New Year. In preparation for New Year festivities, thin slices of pork were preserved by marination with sugar and spices, and then cooked over a hot plate to be enjoyed with family and friends during the celebrations.
When bak kwa eventually made its way to the Malay archipelago, it began to take on distinct, unique characteristics of its own. For example, instead of being cooked on a hot plate, the marinated pork slices would be grilled over charcoal, which imparts a rich, smoky flavour. The bak kwa in Singapore and Malyasia is also stronger in sweetness and taste than its original version, with the pork slices heavily seasoned with several ingredients such as salt, pepper, sugar, honey, soya sauce, rice wine, five-spice powder, and fish sauce, although vendors jealously guard the exact quantities and combination of the ingredients!
Immensely popular in Singapore, bak kwa has taken on many variations that suit the taste and preferences of our society. For one, variations of bak kwa made from chicken or beef serve as alternatives for those with dietary restrictions, a reflection of our inclusive multi-racial and multi-religious society. Healthier versions of bak kwa (it’s not the healthiest of foods!) made with turkey or less fatty pork loin and containing less MSG or flavouring have also emerged in the market to cater to Singaporeans’ increasing health consciousness. And of course, not forgetting spicy bak kwa – a must-have to satiate our love for (and obsession with) spicy food!
As we indulge in this delicious treat with our friends and relatives during this festive period, may we also appreciate how dishes and delicacies such as bak kwa have evolved and taken on distinctly local features that make them distinctly Singaporean, and now form a part of our Singaporean heritage. And yes, do enjoy the bak kwa this New Year, but remember to have it in moderation so you can be in good health to enjoy the festivities with your loved ones!
Happy Lunar New Year everyone!
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