We sat down to lunch at the newly opened traditional Chinese restaurant Bashu. The waitress brought us a pot of oolong and my buddy, a native Iowan, said, “How do you know if somebody is from New York?” “I don’t know, how?” I said, pouring him some tea. “Oh, don’t worry,” he said. “They always tell you.”
I will tell you, I am from New York, and one surefire way I know to identify a New Yorker is that we can find a good Chinese restaurant. And the mark of a good Chinese restaurant, I feel, is the quality of their twice-cooked pork. There’s been a growing legion of traditional Chinese eateries sprouting up around town, so when we popped in to the latest, Bashu, we ordered their twice-cooked pork as a litmus test.
The mark of a good Chinese restaurant is the quality of their twice-cooked pork.
What is twice-cooked pork? Take uncured pork belly, simmer it in water and then place it in the fridge. This is the first cooking. After the pork has cooled, thinly slice it into bacon-like strips, and fry it in a wok with bean paste, chili oil and leeks. Voila, twice-cooked pork.
In a few minutes, the dish arrived, reeking of peppers and onions, passing the initial smell test. Twice-cooking pork can render the meat rubbery, which is the fate of many ill-cooked attempts at this dish, but the pork belly at Bashu was perfectly tender and fried to a delicate crisp. The dish also runs the risk of being too oily, another hurdle that the chefs at Bashu deftly leaped. Their dish had plenty of sauce for late meal rice-sopping without being an oily mess. Bashu’s twice-cooked pork was top-notch and worthy of a New Yorker’s (or anyone’s) attention.
Owner and University of Iowa graduate Sue Zheng mentioned in a previous interview with LV that their signature dish is a spicy crab pot. By the measure of their twice-cooked pork, I’ll be sure to return for the crab.
This article was originally published in Little Village issue 198.