The Best Char Siu In Hong Kong, 2020 Edition
It seems so simple, barbecue—throw some meat in a marinade, roast it, and voilà– but, like most things that seem easy to learn, mastery of the craft is difficult. Char siu, the lightly spiced, sweet and savoury roast pork, is a key piece in the Cantonese barbecue repertoire, and anyone who has walked past a siu mei (barbecue) shop, its windows brimming with slender slabs of glossy char siu, knows how irresistible it can be. It is possibly the most popular of the roast meats, sold everywhere from streetside takeaway shops to fine dining establishments, and the dish has a keen fanbase, each with their own favourites—we’ve used this guide to distill some of these picks and char siu knowledge.
The char siu at the Gloucester Luk Kwok Hotel’s Cantonese restaurant shot to fame when they began serving char siu atop rice tossed with chopped red onions and roast pork drippings, accompanied by a fried egg, which is modelled after a dish that was depicted in the famed Stephen Chow comedy, The God of Cookery. The char siu itself is the mui tau cut (pork collar, or butt) from fresh local pork, with a light maltose glaze that is caramelised till the edges become quite charred. In the rice dish, it’s served in just two long, thick chunks for maximum Flintstones-esque satisfaction of biting into a big piece of meat; when ordered à la carte, the char siu is chopped into thick slices and served with the natural pork jus.
Canton Room, 1/F, Gloucester Luk Kwok Hotel, 72 Gloucester Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong; +852 2866 3806
Unlike most Cantonese restaurants, upon opening, The Chairman didn’t have the classic Cantonese roast meats on their menu by default. It has taken the much lauded restaurant a decade to create their version of the perfect char siu, and it’s been well worth the wait. They use local pork, specifically a part of the pork butt that local butchers call mui tau tsui (“mouth of pork collar”) or dai yat dou (“first cut”) that is carefully trimmed, and takes on a slight smokiness in the roasting process. Instead of maltose, it’s glazed with a sugar delicately scented with tuwei, a type of grafted Rose de Mai (rosa x centafolia) that’s a speciality of Zhongshan. It’s roasted à la minute, meaning that unlike most places, their char siu is served piping hot out of the oven—an additional incentive to be on time for your booking.
The Chairman, 18 Kau U Fong, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2555 2202
Founded by the food-loving Lau family (father Lau Kin-wai and son Lau Chun are both food writers), Kin’s Kitchen has always been known for their refined homestyle food, using the best ingredients from the city and surrounding region, be it from wet markets, farms or artisans, and the char siu here reflects that. Marinated with their own blend of preservative-free sauces, including barbecue sauce from century-old local makers Liu Ma Kee, they use the part of the pork collar called mui tau tsui, a cut preferred for its rich marbling, and roast to order, ensuring a fresh, juicy slab every time.
Kin's Kitchen, 5/F, W Square, 314-324 Hennessy Road, Wan Chai, Hong Kong; +852 2571 0913
Lung King Heen
The revered harbourside Cantonese fine diner serves up a covetable char siu made with fresh pork from China. It’s roasted in what’s known in Chinese kitchens as a “space” oven, a vertical tandoor-like metal barrel, in which the pork is submerged. There are no temperature readings or controls on the oven, so the roasting process is heavily reliant on the chef’s control and experience. Like most char siu in Hong Kong, they use the most tender part of the pork collar, and roast it twice – first at a higher heat to give the outside colour and char, then on lower heat to gently cook through. It’s glazed with honey, and cut into precise 1.5cm x 4.5cm slices, which executive chef Chan Yan-tak considers the perfect sized-bite.
Lung King Heen, 4/F, Four Seasons Hong Kong, 8 Finance Street, Central, Hong Kong; +852 3196 8888
At Mott 32, the sleek modern Chinese restaurant known for its sustainable, premium imported ingredients, Iberico pork is used for char siu—specifically, a cut called pluma. Some say it’s part of the shoulder, others say it’s part of the loin—either way, it’s at the boundary of the two, and a speciality of Iberian butchery, known for its long, tapered shape (pluma means feather in Spanish). Its intricate marbling highlights the sweetness of the fat, influenced by the Iberian pig’s well-known diet of forest fodder—acorns, herbs, mushrooms and the like. The char siu is glazed with honey from Huangshan, or Yellow Mountain in Anhui, one of China’s most famous mountains and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Mott 32, B/F, Standard Chartered Bank Building, 4-4A Des Voeux Rd Central, Central, Hong Kong; +852 2885 8688
Sun Kwai Heung
This humble barbecue shop near Chai Wan market is so small, it mostly does takeaways, but it has an outsized reputation amongst char siu fanatics. They insist on using fresh as opposed to chilled or frozen pork, offer two cuts of char siu—the regular mui tau (pork collar), which is known for its marbling and springy texture, and the rarer pork belly, cut from the ribs (which are also barbecued like char siu), with clear layers of fat. They’re known for their heavy application of maltose, giving it an almost candied effect, and results in a deep char on the edges of the meat. They roast three to four times throughout the day, and it’s not surprising to find some fans waiting outside to get the freshest batch straight out of the oven.
Sun Kwai Heung, Shop 17, G/F, Goldmine Building Block A, 345 Chai Wan Road, Chai Wan, Hong Kong; +852 2556 1183
West Villa’s char siu is often cited as one of Hong Kong’s best, as it’s believed that the now-ubiquitous style of serving—cutting the slab into slices as thick mahjong tiles, originated from chef Kwok Kam-man, who used to head up the barbecue section here. Char siu used to be sliced extremely thinly, and chefs once favoured the leaner parts of the pork collar, but Kwok is said to have begun trimming the collar differently when making char siu, incorporating fattier parts while keeping some lean meat on the edges to produce a juicier roast that lends itself well to thick slices. His char siu made him particularly famous in the entertainment crowd, which led him to providing the char siu for the famous dish in Stephen Chow’s The God of Cookery. Although Kwok has long since left the Causeway Bay institution, his recipe and methods live on, and the char siu is still so coveted that diners pre-order it when booking a table for fear of missing out.
West Villa, 5/F Lee Gardens One, 33 Hysan Avenue, Causeway Bay, Hong Kong; +852 2882 2110
As a new, modern branch of the renowned Yung Kee, Yung's Bistro is becoming quickly known for their serious barbecue. Their classic mui tau (pork collar) char siu has even marbling, and is favoured by the restaurant for its ability to retain its juices, and its uniform shape, thereby helping them create more consistent results. They also offer pork belly char siu—the higher fat content creates delicious, indulgent flavours and aromas. Grain-fed pork from the foothills of the Rocky Mountains in Canada is used for its meat-to-fat ratio as well as the fact that it comes directly from the farm and is completely traceable. Due to changes in licensing over the years, they’re unable to use a charcoal oven like Yung Kee, but they’ve innovated in their own way, by using a marinade that features a bespoke barbecue sauce created alongside 92-year-old local saucemakers Koon Chun. The char siu is finished off with a pure maltose glaze for that perfectly sticky drape.
Yung's Bistro, Shop 701, 7/F, K11 MUSEA, Victoria Dockside, 18 Salisbury Road, Tsim Sha Tsui, +852 2321 3800
Related: Where To Find The Best Peking Duck In Hong Kong: 2020 Edition