Hakka pride in Hong Kong's best braised pork
Jolly men in tall white chef's hats are using shovels to push around heaps of diced pork in woks the size of truck wheels. The smell of food is everywhere.
It's the inaugural Hong Kong Hakka Culture Festival and we're at the climax of the four-day event: the Hakka braised pork cook-off.
Many people misunderstand the Hakka as a group of outsiders in Hong Kong, but during pre-colonial times there were as many as 130 Hakka villages in the New Territories, making the Hakka Hong Kong's true indigenous people.
The Hakka Culture Festival, held December 2-5, paid tribute to the ancestry of some 2 million Hakka people in Hong Kong today. The most anticipated part of the festival was the cook-off where some 2,000 people were fed not only the braised pork in the competition, but a full banquet of classic Hakka cuisine.
Braised pork is to the Hakka what chili is to the Americans, ragu to the Italians -- common homecooking that can be elevated to a gourmet experience when done right. Everyone has their own "secret recipe" and insists that it is the ultimate.
Hong Kong's notable Hakka restaurants cooked up a storm at the competition in Tai Po in a bid for the crown of Braised Pork King.
Chef Wan of Tai Hang Catering is also the village chief of the Hakkanese Tai Hang Village in Tai Po.
"I'm not a trained chef but I watched my father as a boy and he later taught me how to cook traditional Hakka dishes. What's important is we put our heart and soul into our food."
On his big metal spatula: "I made my own large spatula from a thick wooden branch that is lacquered. It is strong and gives me good leverage when cooking dishes in a big wok and my hands won't slip."
A Hakka Hut chef prepares his entry for the competition.
Special wood burning stoves were built for each restaurant so they could cook the pork dish in the traditional manner on site.
Although many onlookers thought Hakka Hut’s braised pork presentation looked the best, it placed third in the competition.
Braised pork is one of the most representative dishes in Hakka cuisine, which is typically rustic, robust and heavily flavored.
The pork dish is made by slow cooking diced pork belly in a mixture of ginger, garlic, cooking wine, slab sugar, dried mandarin peel, fermented tofu, soy sauce, and the chef's own secret ingredient.
The winning braised pork dish was made by Choi Fook Wedding Banquet Catering Group.
Founder of the group, Ho Wai Hung, said the ideal braised pork should be: "Aromatic in a refreshing way, not gamey, and it should be soft and sweet."
Other classic Hakka dishes were also served as part of the feast for the attendees.
Chefs from Chung Shing Poon Choi Restaurant prepared salt-baked chicken, a Hakka favorite.
Preserved vegetables in a clay pot were prepared by Tai Po's Tai Yat Restaurant.
Minced pork is stuffed in rings of melon and steamed.
Soft, thick vermicelli is cooked with shredded melon, seafood and egg by Chung Shing Poon Choi Restaurant.