New Recipes

Bak Kua (Malaysian Jerky)

Food is a celebration.

Most of my fondest memories are centered around food. Certain food brings back nostalgic memories of the bygone times and the tastes linger in one’s mind and transcend time, for example: bak kua (肉干) or Malaysian version of jerky–little squares of dry-treated meat charcoal-grilled to perfection, with flavors so sublime words can’t even begin to describe.

As the youngest child in a big family, my late parents loved to take me to kung fu movies when I was little. Back then, I didn’t really understand movies and was always puzzled why the bad guy who died in last week’s movie was now alive and kicking. I didn’t know that movies were fictitious and unreal; I was intrigued nonetheless…

We went to movies a lot, almost every weekend. My parents loved going to the old Capitol and Federal Cinemas in Penang.  I was always brimming with excitement when weekends come, not so much for the kung fu movies, but the thought of having “cinema food”–aromatic and droolsome charcoal-grilled bak kua sandwiched in between a bun from the hawker stall in front of the cinema. If you grew up in Malaysia, I am sure you remember those little hawker carts that sell bak kua, bak hu (pork floss), pink-colored chicken wings, and buns. While cinema foods mean popcorns and sodas in the United States, bak kua and bun were our version of cinema food. It was a favorite childhood food of mine.

As I reminisce my childhood days, tears well up in my eyes.  Sometimes, it’s very easy to lose sight of things that happened in the past, but I always believe that one should never forget your root–the places, smells, tastes, sounds, and sights of your hometown. Those are the things that shape up who you are today.

Since I moved to the United States–I’d attempted to bring back bak kua from Penang only to have them confiscated by airport custom. Once, it was in Singapore. I had a box of nicely sealed and packed bak kua, buried deep inside my suitcase. It was immediately trashed away by the custom officer.  My 5 KG worth of bak kua goodness in various flavors, shapes, and meats were total waste. I tried again, naturally, but was caught again. The second time, it was the US airport custom. Another 5 KG of bak kua ruined. I gave up eventually.

But now, there is one good news if you love bak kua: they are now freshly made in New York and available for sale at

So, here I am saying it again–food is a celebration, a very important component of what makes our lives truly meaningful.

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66 COMMENTS... read them below or add one

  1. Adeline

    I love bak kua and yes, I do remember the old days when there are many bak kua hawkers in front of the cinema. Nowadays, I hardly see them in Penang anymore.

    This is a great and touching post. Love your writing and love bak kua.

  2. Jasmine

    I know exactly what it feels like seeing the US Customs guy throwing away your precious bak kua. I could have cried with vexation looking at all that delicious (and expensive!) meat, carefully packed away by mum, just tossed aside. Those sniffer dogs they have are just too good! :) I kept thinking to myself, if they only knew how delicious it tasted, if they only ate a piece, they wouldn’t do this! There are many, many nights when I miss Penang food so much, it can only be partially satisfied by surfing food blogs and devouring the photos they, and you, have here. Please keep up the wonderful work promoting Penang and its one-of-a-kind food! We badly need an ambassador like you for Penang! :)

    • Ash

      They did the same to me after three wonderful years living in Spore. But worse … as they finally “released” me, being in violation of a delicious snack … I saw them in the employee lounge eating it through a cracked door. U.S. TSA are dishonest, closeted foodies. And thieves.

  3. Helen Tang

    Hi RasaMalysia,
    If you are interested in a recipe for making your own ‘bak kwa’ – I have my mum’s recipe. She has made this in the past for me when I was a little girl.
    You are welcome to it – just email me.

    Helen Tang
    Sydney, Australia

      • Helen Tang

        Hi Bee,
        Forgot that I could actually send my recipe through this reply link – so, I’m not sure if you have received my recipe for Bak Kwa – sent to you yesterday via your ‘contact us’ link.
        If you have not received it – please let me know.

        Helen Tang

          • Helen Tang

            Hi Bee,
            My mother has not made this for over 20 years, so her memory is a bit rusty – you may have to try it out & see if the seasonings need tweaking; but the mian ingredients are here.
            Hope you make this successfully and post it on your site with lovely pics.

            Bak Kwa
            1 ½ kg ground pork (with a bit of fat)
            • 2 tbsp fish sauce
            • 2 tbsp soya sauce
            • 250 gm brown sugar
            • ¼ tsp of five-spice powder
            • ¾ tsp white pepper
            • 1 ½ tbsp olive oil
            • 2 ½ tbsp rose wine (mui kwai low)
            • 8 small packets of ‘san char’ – ground up and add a tbsp of water to make into a paste
            • ½ tsp of liquorice powder
            • A couple of drops of red coloring

            1. Mix ground pork thoroughly with the marinade and wrap with cling-wrap and leave in the fridge overnight.
            2. Cut 4 pieces of greaseproof paper – to a length of 18 inches each .
            3. Spread the pork mixture thinly onto 2 sheets of the greaseproof paper.
            4. Place the other 2 sheets of greaseproof papers on the top of the spread pork mixture.
            5. Use a rolling pin and roll out as thinly as possible.
            6. Remove the top sheets of greaseproof paper and leave the spread mixture to dry out in an open area (preferably in semi shade).
            7. Cover with food covers and let it air dry for about 6-8 hours.
            8. When the mixture is fairly dry, cut into squares – approximately 3 inches square.
            9. Heat a charcoal griller (BBQ) and grill for a few minutes each side.

            Helen Tang

    • kim

      Can you give me the recipe for bak kua of your mum. I live in the gold coast and never have a chance to even smell that beautiful delicious unable to describe smell of bak kua but if i am able to make it “that would be so cool”. We cannot get it here at all. Can you please be so kind to provide me the recipe. many thanks

    • Aileen Smith

      I am a Singaporean living in South Carolina and wish very much if you can send me your mother`s recipe for `bak kua`. It will be much appreciated if you can. Thks.

    • Michael Tang

      My sister recently came over from Ieland and we gotaking about Malaysian food. This “bak kwa” is it the same as “long yoke” in cantonese? Also, please send me the recipe for “bak kwa”. Thank you.

  4. Audrey

    OM…I was able to bring back several of nicely packed bak kua a couple years ago. I was definitely lucky then because the custom officer was more interested in my ethnicity than what I had in my luggage. When prompted with what food item I had, I just answered “some snacks”, they are considered snacks right? Probably won’t that lucky next time.

  5. I managed to sneak some bak kua in one time. The sniffer dog kept sitting by my luggage but I told the handler (truth!) that I had kept my ham sandwich there before eating it. So everytime the dog would sit down, the handler would just keep walking.

    This was back when things were a little more lax. I wouldn’t dream of trying to smuggle anything home now.

  6. Su-yin

    Bak kua! I love this.. I had a nice chicken one when I was home for summer, from a shop in the basement of Gurney Plaza. I also dreamt about bak kua (very sad, I know) a few days ago, and it’s nice to see you blogging about it so soon after!

    I have managed to bring it in into London quite often, but I’ve stopped doing it recently as my mum says it’s not healthy! :P Oh Lily’s blog has a recipe for it too, I bookmarked it a while back.

  7. Su-yin

    Oh, and strangely, your posts don’t seem to be appearing on my RSS reader (since you switched to wordpress possibly?), I use Google Reader. I only realised you had posted through foodgawker.

  8. I have been meaning to try to make it myself from scratch. I think I have a couple of recipes for it. Wish you lived closer, we could try to do it together!
    By the way, love the new site. Is it hard to rework? Nate is in the process of switching too.

  9. Oh, forgot to say that my memory of Bak Kwa was always during CNY when we went back to Penang, there would be at least one or two boxes given to the family and we would just munch on it for snacks through the week of CNY. Miss it very much too.

  10. Yohan

    Hi Bee,
    Let me tell you a little trick … You won’t believe what I did in order to smuggle bakwa into Europe ;-)

    Instead of flying directly from say Singapore or Malaysia into Amsterdam, I usually choose to fly first into Brussels/London/Frankfurt, with a connecting flight to Amsterdam. The airlines will take care of my luggage. For flights within Europe, there is no custom involved. I only need to pick up my luggage after arriving in Amsterdam and walk out, no more custom checked :-D

    My friends can’t understand why I want to go through all these troubles only for a few packs of bakwa. Hey, it’s not about food, but my childhood memory.


    • Kenny

      You also need to make sure to tell them at the counter when u check in to have your luggage sent direct to the destination as otherwise you may need to collect your luggage.

      Also you can skip the deliberate step if you live somewhere more provincial, eg i live in Scotland and i always need a connecting flight even if i fly direct back to London. Usually i am routed through as domestic passenger so there is no check but even if there is the customs is usually empty (sometimes they make me collect luggage from international arrivals as they do have a system for that when they care) or only has one person.

      But i usually just send food back like 20kg boxes. Seems to get past customs fine every time.

      But you can make them at home easily enough for a fraction of the price.

  11. i too have memories of going to Odeon cinema and getting my bak kua bun snack. i loved them! still do! thank goodness bak kua is abundant in penang! :) something to look forward to you when you come home yeah?

  12. Im from Malaysia ,every where i go is food almost every single thing is good
    but now im in the United States so I cant eat any of the food any more,but I still can go back to Malaysia every year and eat their super yummy food!!!!!!But anyways Rasa Malaysia thank you so much for you creating this website so that I
    could still learn how to cook Malaysia’s most yummiest food!!!!!! Anyways THANK YOU SO MUCH!Oh, and im a kid but i love to cook im trying to learn baking,too!
    Thank you!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  13. And in the United States we call it Beef Jerky,but in MALAYSIA WE CALL IT Bak Kua or Malaysian Jerky…………ANYWAYS LOVE YOUR WEBSITE,SORRY THATI TALK TOO MUCH ABOUT THANK YOU (ING) YOU

  14. You could try making it though… I manage to get a hold of a recipe from a friend and it looks simple although time-consuming. :)

    (Oh, whenever my parents come to visit, I get my mum to smuggle it in…and she always gets it through – be it Australia or Switzerland!)

  15. S

    For those in the New York area there are a couple of places in Chinatown that I know of that sell these. One place is on Elizabeth Street between Hester and Grand Sts. I grew up in New York, but visited Penang a few times and compared to the ones I tried in Penang, the ones sold in New York is pretty good.
    Love your website and pics!!

  16. cili_padi

    I completely understand the frustrations of seeing bak kua confiscated at the airport. So unfair, but at least the customs officer at the NZ airport was sympathetic about it. I had to call my hubby from the airport and tell him his precious bak kua was gone. Luckily there is a place that makes it in Auckland, so whenever we’re in town, we stock up!

  17. sally

    Thank you..thank you Bee.. I miss ‘bak-kua” a lot too…I just ordered mine..u should ask them to give u some commission for advertising…

  18. There are only a few stalls left in Penang and they sell other variety of items too beside the bak kua. Most of them are now found near food court. Do try out the one at the Lumba Kuda flats on your next trip.

  19. Wie

    Thanks for posting this. I also had my share of sadness when the custom officer threw away the bak kue I tried to “smuggle” in. Seriously, don’t they know that it’s safe and we only want to be able to eat this delicious snack?

    I am very tempted to order bak kua now from the site you posted. Does anyone know what’s the difference is between minced and sliced?

    I think I need to go to NY to get this…

  20. All – thanks for your comments, and the links to recipe of bak kua. I am so happy, might even try to make it one day.

    For those who love Bak Kua and wishes to try it out, the Bak Kua from is highly recommended by me. I grilled them over the stove fire and it was so good, and stick it in between my hot dog bun, and I was a happy kid, again!

  21. Tyan

    I have been a loyal customer at since they started. Glad to know that they have bak kua. The last time I sent some bak kua to my friend in DC, she replied saying “I love you”. Now she can get her own.

  22. CT

    Hi Wie,

    To answer your question… Both sliced and minced bak kua taste the same. Minced bak kua is more tender. They both are equally popular.

  23. sue

    Can I have the bah Kua recipe please?

    I absolutely love it! Chinatown in Melbourne has a shop ….used to be so nice …they are now closed and what;s available now is yuk, vacuum sealed in a bag and tasteless!

  24. chilipadi

    Just returned from S’pore and M’sia. Wanted to bring back some Bak Kua but couldn’t because it is against the law. Love Bak Kua and thankful we can buy it now in the States.

  25. ken


    Just wondering, how do they find out your hidden ba-kwa?
    I’m assuming since you said “Caught” you’re not declaring that you carry meat product right?

    Did the custom stop and ask you?
    Is it the Beagle Sniffer dog at LAX?

    Do you get fine?


  26. ken

    Just got back from Singapore and Kyoto trip last week.
    Got lucky and was able to sneak some vacuum packed ba-kwa through LAX.
    No Beagle dog sniffing around though.

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