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Jan 4, 2014 06:59 AM

HKG: the best sweet and sour pork?

Last summer, I read an article in the LATimes about three chefs (from Michelin-starred restaurants) from Hong Kong who were touring the LA area. They said sweet and sour pork is often the dish ordered "to take the measure of a kitchen" as it reveals the cook's level of skill. (if you haven't read it, the article is here


After reading this, my love for sweet and sour pork was vindicated. I knew it had its roots in traditional Chinese cooking, but I had often heard it wasn't "authentic" and one would never find it in a "real" Chinese restaurant.

so my question... I will be in Hong Kong for two full days (Saturday and Sunday), plus maybe one late dinner (Friday). Where can I get excellent sweet and sour pork? I may be eating alone, or I may be with one or two others. My two friends are locals, so they know how to get around, but ideally somewhere easily accessible would be preferred (they have two very young children). They live in Sha Tin, and I'll be staying relatively close to either Hong Kong Station or Kowloon Station.

someone please find me the sweet and sour pork of my dreams!

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  1. Well, from the article, how about Ming Court, Celebrity Cuisine, or Lung King Heen (at the Four Seasons)?

    Frankly I personally don't like the dish, regardless of those chefs think.

    1 Reply
    1. re: PeterL

      You have a point, PeterL! The winning dish might well be embedded in one of the three afore-mentioned establishments. However, since I have not tried S&S pork at those three places, I am not in a position to comment.
      For all I know, the best version might still be undiscovered by foodies, a product from some obscure 'hole-in-the-wall' kitchen in North Point or Kowloon City......, using giant butane burners for 'woking'?!

    2. Happy Holiday, Prasantrin! Lucky you!!

      The secret behind a great dish of Sweet & Sour Pork usually depends on two major factors. A patient chef willing to take the time and effort to 'double fry' chunks of prime cut piece of pork from scratch. And secondly, to use 'Hawthorne tablets' as the sweetening agent to balance the tartness of the sauce.

      Almost all authentic and popular 'Cantonese' restaurants can create a more than decent and enjoyable version. The ones I tried and enjoyed through out the years, included Fook Lam Moon, Fu Ho, Lei Garden ( Wan Chai ), Fung Shing, Guo Fu Lou, Tim's Kitchen, Fu Sing, Yung Kee, Fung Lum, Xin Dau Ji .... etc, to name a few.

      A few months ago, I had the opportunity to try out two new and different ones. One from ' Loyal Dining ' and one from the iconic stalwart ' Luk Yu Tea House '. Both versions were delicious but they took on a slightly different style. The 'Loyal' version was more 'modernistic' whilst Luk Yu's version took on the more traditional, authentic approach. My ' traditional Cantonese palette ' had a slight bias towards the latter.

      Based on the information furnished by you above. For places close to Sha Tin, I would either give the Michelin 1* Lei Garden (Sha Tin) or the 1* Fung Lum ( Tai Wai ) a try. Candidate close to Kowloon Station will be Lei Garden ( Elements Mall ). For Hong Kong Station, the natural choice will be Lei Garden ( IFC ).

      To augment your dish at Lei Garden, I would try out their famous ' Ice Mountain 3 layer Roasted Crispy Pork Belly ). At Fung Lum, the Fried sea prawns with peppered salt and the Sha Tin Roasted Pigeons are items not to be missed!

      Photos of 'Loyal Dining' and 'Luk Yu's' S&S Pork are attached.

      Good Luck and Happy Chowing!

      6 Replies
      1. re: Charles Yu

        Photos of S&S Pork and more.

        1. re: Charles Yu

          i never realized S&S pork is such serious business

          the 3 layer pork @ lei garden is so next level

        2. re: Charles Yu

          I really liked the one at loyal dining we had together. Very interesting version. My favourite until now was in Guangzhou at the famous, very old Guangzhou restaurant. As this is one of my favourite Chinese dishes, I hope prasantrin will tell us where he had some and how it was.

          Charles, you mention hawthorne. I have 5 cooking books written by Chinese chefs, all having a sligthly different recipe for SSP but none mentions hawthorne. They all use sugar or palm sugar to sweeten the sauce. Just wondering, as one specially is focused on traditional versions of the recipes and it doesn't steer away from using ingredients almost impossible to get in Europe.

          1. re: NilesCable

            Happy New Year Nilescable!! Long time no hear!!

            Like the soup broth for traditional Won-Ton noodles, whence the recipe had been 'distorted' whilst being passed down through the ages. The same applies to recipe for S&S pork!

            The use of Hawthorne is a chef's 'secret' approach and as such rarely mentioned, unless the recipe in indeed 'very' authentic and traditional.

            I managed to dig out such recipe using 'Hawthorne' for you!!


            1. re: Charles Yu

              Happy new year to you too, Charles. Any news if you go to HK this March?

              Wow, that recipe is extremely different to the ones I know. Will be interesting to try it out.

          2. re: Charles Yu

            Thank you Charles .. havent been back to HK for many years but your post makes me want to go back now .. many places here in Malaysia serve a decent version but none in recent memory has a wow factor..

          3. I personally think that if you are coming from abroad, practically any half decent rendition that you think tastes good locally will blow away what you have access to at home.

            There are actually two different kinds of SSP type dishes, there's "goo lo yuk" and there's sweet and sour spareribs (sahng tsau gwuk). In Chinese they are named different, but in English they are both essentially sweet and sour (and pork doesn't delineate meat vs meat with bone, which is the latter). Both are more or less readily available at most places, but the latter is more prevalent at run down delicious off the radar stir fry places (e.g. dai pai dongs) where a beer in an iced glass goes great with.

            As for SSP/GLY, what really makes a really really good version is not just the selection of the cut of pork (usually a specific portion of pork shoulder) but also the batter and the frying technique, as well as the balance of the sweet and sour flavors of the sauce recipe. The more detailed oriented restaurants that want to preserve the traditional flavor will go beyond just adding hawthorns, but also dried haw flake sticks, and haw flakes. Luk Yu has also been known to add ketchup, some vinegar. And for those really paying attention, some places do also change the ingredient for the pickled ginger during the summer, and for other seasons, using pineapple.

            For a great SSP/GLY dish to shine, there should be no excess sauce, and the sauce should just cover the veg/condiments and the meat, and while some can remain on the plate, there should not be a pool of it. The pork exterior should be crispy to the bite and ideally retain crisp even after it has sat on the table for a bit.

            Quite a number of locals like Tak Lung in Sun Po Kong for their SSP/GLY.

            It is also interesting that historically SSP used fatty pork belly....back in the old days fatty meat was cheap and lean meat very expensive, so the poor had to come up with a way to make fatty pork easier to eat, and thus SSP was born. Then pork shoulder was used as a substitute and became the norm.

            10 Replies
            1. re: K K

              Don't under-estimate 'overseas' places like Vancouver, Toronto, London, Melborne, SF...etc, my friend!. Nowadays, they have SSP that can rub shoulder with some of Hong Kong's best!!

              1. re: Charles Yu

                speaking of overseas, the one dish in NY from the fuzhou community in NY that i found i really like is called lychee pork.

                its basically a sweet and sour pork except the pieces are much smaller and are very crispy. its very good

              2. re: K K

                totally off topic, but did you guys ever eat those haw berry flake candy things when you were a kid? they are like a bunch of discs on top of each other wrapped in paper...i used to be obsessed with those things when i was a kid

                1. re: Lau

                  Yes grew up eating the discs. Those I think are a bit more processed, and while they are still made in China, once in a while I'll indulge in some.

                  But you can get better tasting haw sticks (rectangular mini blocks) from dried candy/snack shops in Hong Kong, Yiu Feng (?) in Causeway Bay comes to mind, at HK$60 a pound, those are ridiculously addictive.

                  1. re: K K

                    yah ive had better ones, but i was just talking about when i was a kid

                  2. re: Lau

                    I used to love those things. Used to pretend they were hosts and my siblings and I would pretend we were giving each other communion. (Sounds odd, but I've met a lot of SE/East Asian Catholics who have done the same thing!!)

                    1. re: prasantrin

                      haha interesting

                      i used to peel them apart and eat them one by one so they would last longer

                  3. re: K K

                    I thought the sweet, sour and red-colored aspects of the sweet-and-sour sauce originally came mostly from a dried paste made of the hawthorn fruit. Little pastilles of mashed and dried hawthorn fruit used to be for sale in even the smallest shops. There are of course sweet-and-sour dishes in some of the other Chinese cuisines. In Shandong, they like sweet-and-sour carp. In Sichuan, there is Sweet-and-Sour Pork Tenderloin (糖醋里脊 - táng cù lǐ jǐ) as well as sweet-and-sour pork ribs (糖醋排骨 - táng cù pái gǔ) and sweet-and-sour crispy fish (糖醋脆皮魚- táng cù cuì pí yú).

                    According to Endymion Wilkinson, Gulurou (咕嚕肉 gū lū ròu - sweet-and-sour pork) first appeared in the English language in the 1950’s but the dish was invented in Guangzhou in the 19th century to suit western tastes. There already was an existing Cantonese dish – sweet-and-sour spare ribs (糖酸排骨 táng suān pái gǔ) that the barbarians did not like because of the bones. They did enjoy the sauce though, so a new dish was created given the name: gulurou or “complaining meat.”

                    1. re: scoopG

                      i always had it in my head that sweet & sour was actually a northern thing that at some point cantonese took a liking to and made it their own (like peking duck), but that could be totlaly wrong

                      have you ever had a fresh hawberry? they're pretty good, I had one for the first time when i was in asia last time

                      1. re: scoopG

                        The red color really depends on the recipe. A majority of restaurants still add ketchup, even Luk Yu Tea House. The amount of hawthorn product varies as well (the extreme is Tak Lung in Sun Po Kong, using 3 kinds, dried hawthorns, haw flakes, and haw flake sticks).

                        For the super lazy restaurants, ketchup and vinegar (no hawthorn). Maybe add a little Worcestershire A1.

                    2. i don't think this is likely the best, but surprisingly ser wong fun is known for their S&S pork, i saw it on some tables and we ordered it. later i looked at online reviews and alot of people mentioned it. I thought it was pretty good although not amazing

                      1. I've done the research based on all your recommendations, and i've decided on Lei Gardens in Shatin. I'm taking my friends out for dinner before I leave, so it's convenient to their place (they have a two-year old and a 6-month old). I've requested s&s pork, the crispy side pork, and 1/2 a peking duck! I suppose i'll need some vegetables in there somewhere, but I'm a carnivore at heart!

                        I am currently going through some solo-HK dining posts, but will likely post another info request in the near future.

                        thanks for all the s&s pork info!

                        5 Replies
                        1. re: prasantrin

                          if you're going to lei garden seriously make sure to get their 3 layer pork 冰燒三層肉 (bing shao san ceng rou)....its next level stuff

                          1. re: Lau

                            Is that the same as the crispy roasted pork as pictured here ?

                            I want to order the right one!

                          2. re: prasantrin

                            'Carnivore at heart'?! Whilst you are in Sha Tin, take the train to the next stop - 'Tai Wai'. Cross the road from the main station exit to 'Fung Lum' and order their ' Sha-Tin roasted pigeon' for take out and munch whilst watching TV!! Ha!

                            1. re: Charles Yu

                              i'll add that to my list! Anything else at Fung Lam that i should get to take out? I figure I'll need some lunch while waiting at the airport in Manila for my connecting flight, and I think leftovers from Hong Kong will be tastier than anything of the Manila airport!