Neanderthal roast meats
The theory was that ancient man discovered cooked meats after a forest fire. It is very plausible, in so many ways. I think some among them, weren’t particularly happy with what that firestorm did to their favourite animals. The hogs came out charred, the wild geese were burnt beyond recognition and the little hares…well, you can just imagine.
I think this was when some Neanderthal felt more could be done with fire control. So he played with it - perhaps becoming the earliest pre-civilisation contender for some Michelin star or even a Makansutra chopsticks rating award that did not exist then. It planted the seeds for it though. It could be that he or she felt more heat could be introduced to the thicker parts of the carcass and the legs or trotters, which needed a gentler fire control to achieve consistency. We are talking about BBQ T-Rex of course.
Fast forward…roasting meats had become an art form today. How meats are prepped, the way it is roasted or chargrilled and even the type of fire power introduced, is important. Whether a chef pre-blanches a chicken stuffed with herbs and then, let it air dry then sit it in the oven just to roast it to a golden brown perfection, or BBQ it over a soft gentle campfire, roast meats have a worldwide appeal. This world has so many versions of roast pork, from babi guling in Bali, lechon in Cebu or Spain, American pulled pork and the comforting Chinese sio bak with softly crispy cracklings, means meat over fire, will always please, and will continue to do so for a long time. Have them over tubers like potatoes, or plantain, rice or noodles and you immediately will be connected to that fateful day in ancient history where roast meats in the jungles were discovered.
Hunting for roast meats
It is inevitable. Ever so often, the thought of Cantonese roasted meats blow right into the head, and stays there. Try as hard as I may, it won’t go away, which is why I head out once in a while, in a “controlled aimlessness” method (where I don’t know where I am heading but I know what I want), to hunt down Cantonese roast meats. I brought these three back to my makan cave recently.
1/ Hong Kong Lung Hwa for roast duck, Blk 127, Lor 1 Toa Payoh, #02-18, 10am-3pm, closed on Wednesdays and Thursdays.
I would not have known about this unheralded stall in the heart of Toa Payoh had another hawker there not tip me off about them. The Hong Kong born chef does it old Cantonese style - where it’s all about the skin. He uses a leaner fowl and that subdues the gaminess somewhat. But order a platter and it’s clear the chef clearly knows what’s important. The skin is one of the crispiest I’ve had in a long while and it helps that he uses a leaner and thinner duck. Many, like me, don’t like it too meaty - which is why Peking duck has such a wide appeals. They offer a plum sauce, which is a nice touch for a hawker centre.
2/ Cross Way Bay for roast pork or sio bak, Blk 476, Tampines St 43, 476 Food Loft coffeeshop, 11am-8pm, closed on Mondays or Tuesdays.
Maybe he doesn’t want to cross the famous roast meat masters in Causeway Bay in Hong Kong, but I came for the food, not the name. I was told by a reliable retiree makan buddy, Martin Goh, about this spot out in a god-forsaken corner in Tampines. “Can’t say much about the other roast meats but what you come here for, is the sio bak”, Martin honestly warns me. His recommendation was on the money. The crackling broke me down. It had that dry, soft crumbly and biscuit like texture and the meat was moist. I probed a bit and the hawker told me about how he pre-blanches it before he roasts it with a controlled layer of salt on the skin. His char siew was nicely roasted and it came intensely flavoured and well caramelised, but sadly, it was a tad too lean for my liking that day. I sin properly with char siew - give me the fatty collar cut anytime.
3/ Tonny Restaurant for roast goose, 8-10 Geylang Lor 3, tel 67486618, Tue-Sun: 12pm-3pm, 6pm-10.30pm Closed on Mondays
Chef Tonny Chan is a master Cantonese cuisine. Just study his menu and you know he’s not some ordinary cze cha chef operating in an air conditioned outlet. His signatures include humble but delicate stuff like Crispy Shredded Yam with truffle oils - not something you see in the usual suspect’s menu. Lately, due to the availability of supplies, he had been offering roast goose. This was something off Singapore menus for a long time due to supply problems in the past. This fowl is intensely flavourful on its own and has a gaminess that’s more agreeable than duck. Tonny simply roasts it with soft hints of marinade and let its natural flavour shine through. He serves sit whole, including the head, with a bulbous protrusion, just so you know it’s goose you’re eating, not duck. He needs a day’s advance notice for this order.