Sweet & sour pork @ Ho Yuen Ting, Chinatown, Boston
If one had never set foot into Naples and had a slice of queenly Magherita, and all that one ever encountered was Pizza Hut, pizza would have the same unchowish notoriety as sweet and sour pork here.
But contrary to urban legend, sweet and sour pork wasn't invented in the Midwest (no offense intended to our friends over there, who astutely note the creation of pizza in Singapore as no more than a dubious old wives' tale). It's Chinese dish, that some say was brought south to Guangdong/Canton by Imperial chefs, although I eager defer to the more erudite for historical details.
Variants of fried battered pork occur commonly in the Southern provinces of China; the Fujian/Hokkien have lychees with deep-fried battered pork, and sauces tangy with rice wine and vinegar are also seen. But as one moves a little west From Fujian/Hokkien into Guangzhou/Canton, there's a border city on the Guangdong/Canton side known as Chauzhou/Teochew that enjoys culinary influences from both sides. Here, preserved sour plums and pickles are used to add a brilliant fruitty and sour complexity to the sauce. This is the version that Ho Yuen Ting makes. (Unfortunately, HYT doesn't make the classic steamed pomfret with salty pickled vegetables and sour plum, but I've save the lament for another day.)
This is a serious rendition of a classic dish, not the pasta-from-a-can variety that one gets at 99% of chinese places in this country. No, it's not the absolute best I've had in the world, but it's a honest and true version that is very well prepared (analogous to saying I really enjoy a lot of pizza around here, but I'd still go to Naples in a heartbeat). If nothing else, they use the correct cut of pork (which I've never seen used in this country), giving a golden brown batter to fatty cuts that those who appreciate the double cooked pork at Zoe's will be able to recognize. Rich fried goodness, white lard against white meat.
The Chaozhou/Teochew touch is really apparent with the pickles, which Teochews really dig. There's red ginger, mildly tangy onions cores or shallots and stripes of what I guessed were turnip (but could well be wrong), all adding different kinds of sweet and sour to the dish. A recent version lacked the addition of a preserved sour plum (suan1 mei2) which I had on a prior version (I've had it twice). Insist on the sour plum, it makes a huge huge difference.
The catch? It's on the back page of the menu in Chinese only. Approximate pronunciation in mandarin: chao zhou gu lu rou. (Don't worry too about precise pronunication in Mandarin -- they're run by Cantonese and don't speak much Mandarin anyway; it's just enough that they'll get the drift -- my suggestion is more a reflection of my inability to comprehend or communicate in Cantonese. *grin* Perhaps a Cantonese chowhound will chime in on the language issue. Off the record, I'm guessing it sounds something like "chiu chow koo loo yok" but my official position is that I'm not butchering anything more than pork.) Maybe they'll bring that to you when you order sweet and sour pork, who knows. It's worth try. For a glimpse of what *real* sweet and sour pork can be like, this is the version to chow on around here.
I don't suppose you remember *where* on the Chinese menu? It would help us Mandarin-compromised folks to be able to point to, say, third down on the left before we commence floundering. Or if some obsessive could scan the thing and post it... Because this definitely goes on the to-try list. Thanks Limster.
I think it's on the upper left column...there's a section where the first 2 characters are identical for a bunch of dishes -- those characters are "Chaozhou" in Mandarin. It's one of them. (Actually, any one of those dishes are the ones to order at HYT, the Teochew/Chaozhou dishes, not their regular Cantonese.)
Nice one Limster! That has my mouth watering for sure, and I will make it a point now to have sweet & sour pork for the first time in probably 20 years. I wasn't sure if you meant that the pork was battered (that is, cooked in a batter, haha) or not? Well, I'll find out soon I hope. Will also try to say it in Mandarin when I order, thanks to your lesson.