by Katherine Wei
In a nation whose favourite past time is eating, every person has perhaps a mile-long list of favourite foods and eateries from years of munching around Taiwan. But long as the collection of delectables may be, one of the dishes must be luroufan, also known as braised pork rice, or minced pork on rice.
Whenever authentic Taiwanese food is brought up, the locals will lick their chops as luroufan almost inevitably pops to mind. Possibly the most common food found in all cities in Taiwan, it is our number one comfort food, with dozens of recipes and variations; every local has a favourite luroufan place he or she swears by. So imagine the hurt and shock registering on our faces when the Michelin Green Guide Taiwan labelled the dish as an "element staple of Shandong cuisine;" Taipei Mayor Hau Lung-bin even went ahead and had the government prepare and dish out 1,000 servings of luroufan to reclaim the dish's namesake.
The humble luroufan traces back to a poorer era in Taiwan, when pork came at much higher prices that the majority of families were only able to afford smaller portions. Perhaps some 50 or 60 years back, housewives would approach the neighbourhood butcher for leftover scraps of meat and pig skin, taking them home to simmer in soy sauce and served over rice: usually a spoonful of the pork goes a long way, that is to say, a large heaping bowl of rice.
Served in small bowls that fit snugly into your palm, luroufan is possibly the simplest food one can find in Taiwan: it is shredded pork with a soy-sauce based gravy poured over a steaming mound of rice.
The bits of braised pork has to be the right shade of brown, contrasting with the white gleaming grains of rice – we can tell if the pork-gravy mixture is too bland or too salty by a single glance. The pork can be fatty or lean depending on personal preference, many prefer bits of skin mixed in for a creamier taste; a fatty mixture is perfect for those craving for their pork to "melt on the tongue," and lean meat is used for a chewier texture that releases the fragrance of soy sauce, star anise and fried shallots as you chew. But unlike the thickened substance that is a staple in much of Western cuisine, the luroufan gravy is thinner and great for blending into the rice. The gravy is rich as it is complex, and recipes varies from home to home, but most contains spices like star anise, stir-fried shallots and a dose of sugar for a sweet-savory tinge.
The centre to the majority of Asian cultures, rice plays an equally important role in luroufan as well; it is not merely a bland base used to set off the bits of salty pork, the quality of every grain counts as each bite of rice and braised pork has to be the same as the previous bite – soggy rice will not do. The rice is stickier than the long rice found in Cambodia and Thailand, but not so glutinous that makes it difficult to mix in the gravy evenly.
Often served with a slice of stewed daikon, or radish, to ease any hint of greasiness, a steaming bowl of luroufan is welcome to all Taiwanese eyes at nearly all hours – some even begin consuming the heavenly pork-rice combo early in the morning. So do not hesitate when a local asks you what you would like to try in Taiwan, surprise him or her with the password to a marvelous experience: luroufan! — The China Post