Braised Pork Belly (Dong Po Rou/东坡肉)
January 06th, 2012 63 Comments

Braised Pork Belly (Dong Po Rou/东坡肉)

Braised Pork Belly (Dong Po Rou)
Braised Pork Belly (Dong Po Rou) pictures (1 of 4)

Pork is most definitely not just “the other white meat” in China. From the smoky-licious BBQ Pork (叉烧) and Crispy Pork Belly (烧肉) in Cantonese cuisine to the dainty-licious Xiao Long Bao (小笼包) from Shanghai and numerous other famous Chinese pork dishes in between, pork is clearly the meat of choice in Chinese cooking. In fact, the Chinese character for meat ‘肉’ (ròu), refers to pork if no particular meat is specified (e.g. 咕噜’肉’ translates to Sweet and Sour ‘Pork’).

During one of my travels to China, I had the pleasure of introducing my taste buds to a deservedly popular pork dish in Chinese cuisine—the delicate and delectable Braised Pork Belly, Dongpo Pork (东坡肉). As I have mentioned before, many Chinese dish names tell interesting stories, like Beggar’s Chicken (叫化鸡) or Goubuli Baozi (狗不理包子). Dongpo Pork is an iconic feature of Hangzhou (杭州) cuisine and can be attributed to Su Shi (苏轼) a.k.a Su Dongpo (苏东坡), a scholar and court official during the Song Dynasty (宋朝), renowned today for his brilliance in poetry, calligraphy, and writings in Chinese literary history.

There was a time when Su Dongpo was demoted for criticizing the emperor and sent to Huangzhou (黄州) in exile. One day, he was so engrossed in a game of Chinese chess (象棋) with an old friend that he forgot all about the Red-Cooked Pork Belly (红烧肉) braising on his stove. The fragrant aroma from the lengthy braising drifting in from the kitchen suddenly reminded him. As he took a bite of the pork, he was pleasantly surprised to find that the dish he thought had been ruined turned out to be even more tender and tastier than expected. Dongpo Pork was thus born.

Braised Pork Belly (Dongpo Rou/东坡肉)

When he was later stationed in Hangzhou (杭州) and was overseeing a reconstruction project on the West Lake (西湖), he cooked the same dish with the pork cut up into cubes and distributed them to the workers as a sign of gratitude. The dish was thoroughly enjoyed by all and Dongpo Pork rapidly gained popularity then and there right up to the present day, where it has become a notable signature dish in Hangzhou cuisine and famous all around the world.

The key discerning factor between Red-Cooked Pork and Dongpo Pork is undoubtedly the lengthier braising process, which increases the caramelization of the sugar to enhance the flavor, infuses the cooking wine into the meat longer for an even richer fragrance, and last but definitely not least, breaks down the fat further to give the pork that tender “melt-in-your-mouth” texture minus the greasiness.

In other words, this is one dish that is definitely worth the wait. And as a bonus for your patience, you can always “forget” to set your kitchen timer and wait for the tantalizing aroma to remind you of the mouth-watering concoction simmering on your stovetop. Who knows? You might just get a dish named after you!

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63 comments... read them below or add one

  1. Alex says:

    This pork looks fantastic!
    These safety strings add some complexity to the picture, for sure.
    But a question: how the guest supposed to remove them? Is it possible to do this with just chopsticks?

    • Peter Chiu says:

      I was fortunate enough to treat my family, who were visiting me in Suzhou, to this remarkable dish.
      It was served in small portions only, one serving for each of us, and the pork really does melt in our mouths.
      I will be cooking this dish in Australia someday, as soon as I can lay hands on some thick, juicy, belly pork. Yummy!

  2. Elaine Xie via Facebook says:

    Isn’t that just a blob of fat?

  3. renee says:

    I just made some 红烧肉 last night, I should try this recipe tonight. Yummy

  4. Elaine, that’s how pork belly is. Streaks of fat and meat. I usually use those without skin and very little fat. Still taste good.

  5. Elaine – exactly, that’s why pork belly is so good, fat with streaks of meat and melts in your mouth. ;)

  6. Tsu – thanks for explaining. :)

  7. Really tasty photos……. will be miaking this in the slow cooker…….

  8. YUMMY! I remember have some amazing Dong Po Rou in Shanghai a few years and have thought about making it at home but never had the courage too lol I’m more of a baker ~ will definitely be referring to your recipe though!


  9. Holly Nguyen via Facebook says:

    Looks amazing. I am marinating two cornish hens to try your Chinese style roast chicken at the moment.

  10. Debbie Woo says:

    My family loves Stewed Pork Belly! In fact, I just made it for dinner last night. I also throw in some carrots and a couple of chickens thighs. I’ve discovered cooking it in a pressure cooker and it only takes 1hr to cook with the same tasty results! So yummy!

  11. Anna Kee via Facebook says:

    This dish is so easy to make. will try it as soon as I can get a slab of pork belly.

  12. Silvia says:

    This is looks fantastic! Can’t wait to try them..:)

  13. @Holly – let me know how the roast hen goes. :)

  14. Caroline says:

    Hi Thanks for another wonderful recipe. Will Sure try to make it next weekend.

  15. Holly Nguyen via Facebook says:

    The Chinese style chicken is incredible! Had it with garlic green beans and white rice…will be making this again. Thank you!

  16. Ira Rodrigues says:

    Interesting story and recipe Bee!

    We have restaurant in Bali which serve this dish, it call depot 369, i had this dish and my husband thought me how to it–sandwich the braised belly with very yummy pao *i totally forget the name:(
    it really melt in the mouth :)

  17. Riza Maraingan says:

    I tried this recipe yesterday and it was amazing.

  18. phoenixhauser says:

    On a side note, Dongporou is quite popular today, mainly because it was a favorite of MaoZedong, whose favorite recipe reportedly uses no soy sauce. Rumor goes that he grew up in Hunan, which had many soy sauce factories and after seeing how soy sauce was made, was not a fan of it in his food. An imperial chef was tasked with re-creating Dongporou without soy sauce and after two tries, he was in the Great Helmsman’s favor. My favorite version is served atop sweet rice nestled in a roasted small pumpkin crowned with the decadently fatty, tender meat–the gluttonous rice and sweetness of the pumpkin makes for a very tasty dish.

  19. zenchef says:

    Bee, this pork belly looks so incredibly delicious I want to cry. Wow.

  20. wfeiwan says:

    Ha, we had this at a restaurant the other day and the kids love it. we had it sandwiched betwwen pieces of pao-like mantou. I am so going to try this this week, as a good prep for CNY dinner :) Thanks Bee

  21. Mila says:

    I have a pot full of dong po rou (a la Filipino adobo style). I cooked two slabs of pork belly, with some very streaky pork neck chunks in a sauce made of a local chinese rice wine (in lieu of vinegar), soy sauce, garlic, ginger, peppercorns, scallions, and a couple of star anise tossed in there. Three hours braised in the oven and all that meat was soft and buttery. I have kept the pork belly in a “confit” (the fat congealed over the belly strips), and have used a few chunks to cook vegetables. It’s a divine dish, very versatile and easy to make. Long live pork!

  22. It is available in Esquire Kitchen. We always call this dish whenever we eat there. Delicious. Think I’ll try out the recipe. Thanks.

  23. ShowShanti says:

    Can’t wait until I’m eating meat again. This post has me anticipating this as my first meat meal!

  24. joey says:

    This is just the sort of dish I love!! Bookmarking!

  25. Cindy says:

    My god, look at that color,

  26. quaintly says:

    a nice recipe, but i really miss the fivespice flavor of dong po rou! so i added abt 1 tsp fivespice powder and also 1 cinnamon stick and double the amount of shaoxing wine.

  27. Karen says:

    Hi! When you call for dark soy sauce is this the Malaysian thick caramel sauce?

  28. Jinilia says:

    hi bee! i just found out about your website when searching for the black pepper beef recipe. I found yours in when she referred to this website. I have to say that is the best black pepper recipe ever!! my husband loves it so much he asked me to cook again for him the next day lol thanks to you.
    I just tried your dong po rou this evening for dinner and it’s just delicious!! i went to hang zhou once and tried this dish. A bit different from what i remember but still your recipe tastes great and that’s what matters!!
    btw, i really really want to buy your book. do u know if they sell it in singapore? rather than buying from amazon (the shipping fee is like 75% of the book price for standard 18-32 days delivery!!) i literally cant wait that long! lol
    please let me know, ok :) thanks

  29. Rebecca Wong says:

    Hi!If I wish to cook 2lb of pork belly does that mean I have to double the ingredients?

  30. Jin says:

    Hi Bee, I tried making this the other day and the result was very, very salty. I followed your recipe down to the tee, and I am wondering if it is because I simmered it uncovered or is 1 cup of soy sauce too much?

    • If you read the comments, a few people had tried with successful results. If you simmer with the lit uncovered, all the water will evaporate/reduce mostly that’s why your sauce might be too salty. If you simmer with it covered, it keeps most of the water/moisture. Add more water if it’s too salty.

  31. Jin says:

    oh wait, I think I braised it with the pot covered. Hence, I am not sure why the recipe turned out to be so salty. Would be great if I know what went wrong as I love Dong Po Rou! Thanks!

  32. Pingback:Braised Pork Belly | Snippets of Suri

  33. Pingback:Why Don’t You Have The Other White Meat For Dinner? « Oh Snap! Let's Eat!

  34. celineccl says:

    Hey Bee, I just had a go at this recipe, but found it overly overly salty even after adding a whole lot of sugar. Could there be a mistake in the amount of soy sauce used?

    • I used low sodium soy sauce which is very light. I updated the recipe to 1 cup low sodium soy sauce or 1/2 cup regular soy sauce. Also did your water level reduced a lot? If so, add some water to it.

      Are you using an American measuring cup?

  35. rachel says:

    Hi thanks for the awesome recipe really been looking forward to it since moving away from singapore, it was really easy to follow but after two hours of simmering I was nowhere near the caramel looking brown in the photo? It’s the color I’m familiar with from back home so I know what Iv made is way too white, but the braising sauce tastes really good and the meat really soft too but somehow doesn’t seem to have absorbed the flavours(which the dark colour would have been an indicator that it has I mean and which I didn’t get). I don’t know if iv somehow missed a step by misunderstanding your recipe? Like after drying the pork after its been boiled is it supposed to be fried a little with the garlic and scallions before adding water? Although I don’t see what diff that would make

  36. rachel says:

    argh tried it again and still cant get that caramelly look, and this time the pork even had a weird taste to it, like the pork version of ‘gamey’ if you get what i mean, kind of like the smell that comes up when boiling off the dirt or whatever that is at the start of the process, except this time for some reason it was still in the pork even after letting it boil for 15 minutes or slightly more, it was just the other half of the same slab i used before, left in the regular fridge, shouldnt have spoilt or anything, any idea what im doing wrong?

    • I am not sure, it sounds like you didn’t cook it enough?

      • rachel says:

        well i cooked it for 2 hours both times, only slightly brown looking, left it for at least another hour, every so slightly more brown, not what i would even call medium brown, at this point the meat is so soft that it falls apart really easily in my mouth but just is not what i would call dong po rou, or any of the sort of chinese braised pork

        • kristie wang says:

          I think Rasa was misled by the practice of blanching the meat. Meat must absolutely be placed in cold water before turning on the heat. This allows the blood and other particulates to diffuse out of the pork. You should see a layer of scum. If you place uncooked protein in hot water, all of the scum gets trapped inside the meat. Hope that helped

          • kristie wang says:

            About the falling off part, I usually braise for 1 hour or so, then take portions out and steam it for 30min. I’m not sure why, but that was what I was taught at home (I’m Chinese and make Dong Po Rou all the time). If you’re interested in a translated recipe, let me know

  37. Pingback:Why Don't You Have The Other White Meat For Dinner? « mindsome

  38. anita wong says:

    This great dish was named after a gentleman called Sui Tung Po.
    I was told that a gift was given, a pig, a vat of wine and one of soy sauce.
    After refusing to accept the gifts, he asked that they be cooked together and shared among the people.
    Can anyone add or correct this story?

  39. kristie wang says:

    Nice recipe, but I’m a bit horrified you first boil the pork in boiling water. It actually defeats the purpose of blanching the meat. It needs to be immersed in cold water before turning on the heat, otherwise the veins become immediately clogged and the ‘stench’ and blood from the pork can’t release as it’s supposed to. Same goes for red cooked pork. Nice site!

    • The step was to boil the pork and tied with the string, it wasn’t a step to remove the stench. The pork is braised for two hours with the seasoning, it wouldn’t have any stench.

      • kristie wang says:

        Then I’m a bit confused, what’s the point of first boiling the pork? It’s usually the first step in Chinese cuisine to remove the scum from the pork, but it must absolutely be cold water. Otherwise there’s no point. If you put it immediately in boiling water, you ruin the meat. You might as well brown it instead. I’m Chinese, so I think wherever you learned the recipe from, you were misled. It’s also a bit unhygienic. I tried your matcha cookies though, they’re good!

        • There are many Chinese recipes that call for par-boiling the meat first, I do the same to roast pork belly, for example. I know the treatment of “boiling” the pork in water using low heat (not cold water per se but cold water heating on low heat) to rid the scum/stench. This is how I created this recipe, if you don’t like a specific step in my method, you can skip it or do it the way you like…it’s all good.

        • Anak Malaysia says:

          Kristie Wang. She is not misled. There are 2 schools of thought in this matter. Some swear by using cold water but some use the method described here. I am also a Chinese and I have attended many cooking classes conducted by famous chefs. Both methods are used. Either way, you will not ruin the meat in this dish. After you have braised the pork for 1-2 hours, believe me, you cannot taste the different how you blanch the pork in the first place.

          • Thanks Anak Malaysia. Ultimately, there is no way the pork would have any “porky smell” after the long braising. My first step would remove some surface scum (so the sauce would be “clearer” and also firm up the meat so I could tie with the string.

            • AnakMalaysia says:

              When I teach the young people (especially those have never cook before) , I always tell them cooking is an arts. There is no fix and fast rule or right and wrong. I just tell them add some salt or sugar (whatever) but I do not give exact measurement. It all depends on your mood for that day how you want the food to taste. It also depend on what other dishes you are cooking for that meal. You do not want every dish have the same taste / colour. They will make mistake (like too salty or sweet). This is how they learn.

              Other people may disagree with my method of teaching. That is absolutely fine with me. I love diverse view and opinion.

              At the end of the day, If the dish taste good, who cares how you cook it. Having said that, if we follow certain procedures (like blanching the pork or bones first) , then the food will taste even better.

              This dish for example, it all depend on my mood for that day, sometime I add a piece of star anise and cinnamon. I fry them together with the ginger and scallion till aromatic. This give me a different favour.


              • kristie wang says:

                I don’t disagree. I’m just a little surprised at the Malaysian style of preparing Dong Po Rou, it’s a bit different than what I’m used to, the measurements included. Maybe new world Dong Po Rou. I’ll keep in mind all the recipes are for the home cook. Thanks!

                • Hi Kristie, are you Chinese? If you don’t mind sharing, I would love to have your recipe. I can’t say that this Dongpo Rou recipe is most authentic, because it’s not a native dish that we eat. Most Chinese from Malaysia came from the southern China…

  40. Lisa c says:

    Hi, I just tred your recipe but I added sugar to the oil before stir browning the belly pieces. Does this make the pork belly ooze out a lot of fat?

    By the end of braising all if the water seemed to have evaporated and it found my pork bellies braising in its out fat! Needless to the the pork still came out delicious but I didn’t get that thick caramelly gravy at the end.

    I think there is a step missing from ur recipe . Do we add the pork to the pan after we stir fry the scallions and ginger? Do we brown it or immediately pour water in it?


  41. ann says:

    can cook this in a electric pressure cooker and how?

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